Sailing: the fine art of getting wet and becoming ill while slowly going nowhere at great expense.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Wintering in Lefkas

After the stormy weather of the Medicane, we settled down into the life of wintering over in Lefkas.  The days are crisp and sunny and the nights quite chilly with very heavy dews.  We are getting to know the town, finding the best place to get bread, fresh fruit and veggies and which κρεοπωλείο has the best cuts of meat.  Lefkas has all that we need but if the shopping bug strikes (a non-existent event for me) there are buses to the bigger towns of Prevesa, Athens and  Thessolonika. 

We haven’t explored too much so far outside of the necessities but now that we have crisp, sunny days instead weeks of gray dreary ones, we have taken long walks around the lagoon and explored one of the old forts dotting the island and mainland.
Windmills and grasses around the lagoon
The beach on the Ionian
Ottoman influence at the main gate
Ruins of the old fort with the marina and hills of Lefkas in the background
The fort walls looking out into the Ionian
The Mammon of religion
There is the usual long list of boat chores, (though we have been procrastinating with these, a bit, as we will be here until March, and the holidays are coming, and our general pontoon lassitude).  But we have found all the chandleries and hardware stores where we can get bits and bobs and we are making ourselves known to the various tradesmen to line up jobs for after the holidays. 
The repair and service shops at the marina
There are also plenty of social activities with the other yachty liveaboards. Unlike in Marmaris, Turkey where the wintering over community had dwindled over the years from a high of 500 to about 4 people last year, there is quite a large community living on boats here in Lefkas Marina.  The majority of liveaboards are British but there are several Swedish, German and French sailors staying for the winter.  There are also three or four boats with children living aboard.

A large British ex-pat community lives here in Lefkas in addition to liveaboard yachties.  Most have had years on boats and now have bought a little house on the island. Others have small businesses while living a simpler island life.  We met one Australian woman running a chandlery who grew up not far from Canberra and her parents have retired just down the road from us in Bellingen – such a small world.

The centre of social life in the marina is the Porto Cafe and Bar.  Tuesday afternoons is the Knit ‘N’ Natter where women and children gather over a warming cup of tea or hot chocolate, have a chat and gossip and take the opportunity to relax over our latest knitting project.  Wednesday evenings is the Quiz Night which draws a large crowd.  The questions are often quite British-centric and we colonials and the Swedes will complain but it is all in good fun.  There are guitar lessons in the common room and singing lessons at the Irish Pub.
The Porto - centre of social life at the marina
Knit 'n' Natter on a sunny winter's day
I am quite enjoying the slower pace of life during the winter and cannot believe we have been here for a month already. But our itchy feet and the holidays mean we are off next week to southern Italy and then London for Christmas.
Lefkas getting ready for Christmas markets

Monday, 27 November 2017

On the Edge of the Medicane Numa

Our first two weeks at Lefkas Marina were wet, windy and wild.  A Medicane was brewing in the Ionian sea just west of Lefkas.  A Medicane is a Mediterranean hurricane or cyclone.  Unlike in the tropical Caribbean, where hurricanes occur many times in a single season, Medicanes are rare and there have been only about 100 recorded in all of the Mediterranean in the last 80 years.  The Ionian gets about one such storm every three years.
The course of Medicane Numa
Eye of the storm west of Lefkas
The Ionian and Aegean hit by heavy rain
As the system built up in the Ionian between Italy and Greece, we received daily rain and spectacular thunderstorms followed by short periods of sun with stunning effects.
Rainbow after the storm
Low lying, rain heavy clouds
Double rainbows
After a week or so of this weather the storm front culminated in a wild night of torrential rain, hail and high winds.  Our cockpit enclosure could not handle the onslaught and the cockpit was sopping wet in the morning.  Fortunately the hail did not cause any damage.  We had visions of the dodger and bimini being torn to shreds but all was okay.  We did have a leak in the front hatch and are still drying out the cushions.
Wet cushions drying in the cockpit
Unfortunately parts of Greece did not fare so well.  The low pressure system over the Aegean sent torrential rain to our beloved Symi resulting in flash flooding and massive destruction to the island.
Photos of Symi courtesy of the news services
Then at the height of Medicane Numa, the town of Madra, northwest of Athens also experienced flash flooding which resulted in the deaths of 21 people and massive property damage.
Photos of Madra courtesy of the news services
Of course as in most natural disasters, the devastation is exacerbated by poor infrastructure and planning.  So the steep hillsides with inadequate drainage and town planning of Symi and Madra contributed to much of the destruction just as the draining of the wetlands intensified the flooding in hurricane hit Texas and Florida.  We humans do tend to make a mess of things where Mother Nature is concerned.

So as the residents of Symi and Madra dig themselves out of the mud and rubble, the marina bloomed like a dessert after the rains.  Sails were hauled up to dry, overdue laundry hung up and cushions out to dry.  The local chandleries had an increase in sale of Sikaflex and silicone to plug up newly discovered leaks around stanchions and hatches.  And in the distance were snow covered mountaintops glistening in the chill sunshine.
Sails drying
Washing and cushions out to dry
That's snow in them there hills!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

End of Season Wrap-up

We are now tucked up snug in Levkas Marina for the winter, enjoying the social life, making new friends, getting to know the town and slowly working our way through the list of boat repair and maintenance chores.  As we settle into our winter routine it is time to reflect on the past season of sailing. 
Rainbow over the marina
Songster tucked up in her berth
This is our third season sailing on Songster.  We are now feeling like the learning curve is slightly less steep and overwhelming.  It has taken us this long to find the sail configurations that Songster seems to like best in different conditions and that Wandering Wally, our autopilot, can handle.  Anchoring is now routine and reversing into a harbour to moor stern to now only elicits a slight raise in heartbeat rather than the full on anxiety of our first years.  Nevertheless , we still feel very much like beginners and have so much to learn. Thus far we really are very much Cappuccino Cruisers. 
The Greek national drink - Freddos
This autumn we spent most of our time in the Evia Channel and Saronic Gulf.  Twice we had guest join us sailing.  This was a real treat for us and can’t wait for more family and friends to join us next season (hint, hint..).  Over 9.5 weeks we sailed 553 nautical miles, which is as many miles as we sailed our entire first season in 2015.  We also made the big leap of leaving the Aegean where we have been for three years and transiting the Corinth Canal into the Ionian.

To sum up the entire 2017 season:  We were sailing for 21 weeks (12 weeks in the spring and 9.5 weeks in the autumn) and did 53 passages ranging from 3 nm to 68 nm for a total of 1463 nm.  This was more than double the distance we sailed last season but still quite a modest total.  Of the 150 nights we were out, two-thirds were spent at anchor and the rest moored in a marina or at a town wharf.
We have yet to do an overnight sail on Songster, nor tried out the spinnaker or trysail and only once or twice poled out the genoa for a down wind run.  We have been in some heavy weather but nothing too drastic and except for one or two passages have never been outside of the sight of land.  
Sailing in the Mediterranean has been a great kindergarten for us and generally the sailing is quite benign.  There are no tides or currents to speak of and except for some nasty winds like the meltemi and catabatics off the hillsides or the complete absence of wind, the conditions are quite good.  

So is it time to challenge ourselves a bit more next season?  Should we continue to enjoy Cappuccino Cruising or move on to World Cruising?  There certainly will be a few planned and unplanned challenges that we will face next season and I suppose, as always, we will take it as it comes.


Saturday, 11 November 2017

Wandering Westward for Wintering

After Trizonia we continued our westward journey toward our wintering ground – Lefkas Marina in the Ionian.  We left Trizonia at sunrise with the sun trying to break through gray leaden skies.  Once out in the Gulf of Patras the wind built up and continued to build.  We had started out with a reefed mizzen and genoa.  We had to continue shortening sail so that by the time we went under the very impressive bridge across the Gulf we were sailing on a handkerchief of a foresail only and still doing 6 knots.
Zooming along with a handkerchief of a foresail
A bit chilly out in the Gulf of Patras
Approaching the bridge across the Gulf
Very impressive - the largest cable-stayed bridge in the world
Once we passed the sandbanks of Bampakoulia and turned north the conditions eased.  We entered the long, shallow channel towards Messolonghi.  The houses on these shifting sandbanks were on stilts and very reminiscent of Southeast Asia with a Greek flavour.  We moored alongside the town quay with only one other occupied sailboat and had an early night after a long day.
Houses along the channel to Messolonghi

In the morning just as we were ready to leave the boat to explore the town, a horde of teenagers descended on the waterfront.  There were two unoccupied charter yachts behind us and the teenagers swooped on these boats walking all over them in their street shoes, re-enacting Titanic scenes at the bow, munching chips and dropping crumbs over the teak and even finding a way to go below decks through unlocked hatches.  They weren’t being malicious but quite thoughtless and of course trespassing.  Needless to say we did not feel comfortable leaving Songster in the company of these curious teenagers.  We waited until the hordes dispersed into the classrooms of the nearby high school and with a bit of trepidation locked up Songster to go into the town.
Songster alongside in front of two unoccupied charter boats
The high school kids using the charter boats as their playground
The town turned out to have a nice pedestrian mall and central square and quite a pleasant atmosphere.  We didn’t linger though as we were worried about the boat.  As it turned out we did have a very minor theft, the green starboard tabs from the gate on safety lines were taken, probably decorating someone’s bicycle now.

Another early morning start the next day with very peaceful, calm conditions.  About an hour out some bottle-nosed dolphins came to visit us.  These were so much bigger than the dolphins we saw in the Northern Aegean.  Sadly they didn’t stay with us long but seeing wildlife in the over-fished Mediterranean is always a thrill.
Early morning start
Herons looking for breakfast in the shallow channel
Visited by some bottle-nosed dolphins
By mid-afternoon we arrived at the quiet little bay of Marathias.  It was just us and a family of pigs rooting around on the beach.  The piglets were so cute but I had no intention of going too near.  We stayed on the boat and enjoyed the solitude and beautiful pink sunset.
Peaceful bay with just us and the wild pigs
Speccie sunset
The next day we made our leisurely way towards the island of Lefkas.  It was a rather frustrating passage as the wind just would not co-operate.  We had the sails up and down three times before we just gave up to the iron spinnaker.   Still it is a beautiful area and we checked out a few bays on the pretty islands in between.  We passed Skorpios, the island owned by the Onassis family and where Jackie Kennedy married Aristotle Onassis.
Skorpios, the Onassis Island
Pretty bay near Lefkas
Approaching southern Lefkas
We stopped for the night at Tranquil Bay in the southeast of the island of Lefkas.  It was a pretty spot except for the several sunken boats.  The bay was filled with large jellyfish sporting interesting patterns on their domes.
A very human face
Jellyfish designs - they all seem different, like fingerprints
We got down the dinghy and went ashore for a walk around the town.  It was a Sunday and the end of the season so the place was quiet and only a few tavernas open.  Still it will be nice to return to explore more over the winter.

The next day was our last passage for the season – a short run up the channel to Lefkas Marina, our home for the next 4 months over winter.
Entering Lefkas Marina - our home for the next 4 months