The weather (as usual) looks a little better this morning. Our crew futzes around town, since we are not in a hurry to leave. Barb finds a WiFi signal to poach, gets the forecast and the weather seems to be OK. A few of our neighbor boats leave.
As we are preparing to get under way, my VHF crackles with the dreaded mixture of many Greek words wrapped around the English phrase Gale Warning. While we had sailed (unplanned) in Gale force winds the last 4 days, we hadn’t ever departed with the knowledge that there was an active Gale warning.
We paused our departure and Sheven and I walked back into town, to a bakery with WiFi, and checked the weather on all 3 web sites. They all basically said today is 5-6 and tomorrow 7 or higher (Beaufort Scale). Perfect weather today for sailing. We scurried back to the boat and ready for departure.
We still haven’t figured out when you hear “Gale Warning” on channel 16, if it’s for any place in Greek waters or if it is for local waters. We have also never been able to find any information on any of the other channels they list for more information even though my VHF is programmed to scan all of those channels.
Tom is at the helm today. He is a smooth operator and we had a perfect departure.
We do a broad reach around the southern end of Siros and head for the town of Parikia on Paros. The winds start out perfect and comfortable – around 20 knots. Then (as usual) starts building later and as we approach Paros, we are running straight downwind and hitting 10.5 knots boat speed. That’s pretty fast for a boat this size, and the fastest we’ve done on the trip so far. Tom takes some pride in the speed, which seems to arouse a competitive spirit from The Sheven. I get a little nervous going that fast since I want to make sure we don’t get over powered, and I’m just starting to get a feeling for the boat. Not that we are in danger of capsizing, but I don’t want to stress Niko’s nice boat/rigging, or stress our passengers who are sitting in the saloon below.
I should mention, too, that our speedo doesn’t work on the boat so we are watching the ‘speed over ground’ GPS speed on the chart plotter. The speedo is the only significant thing that doesn’t work on the boat, which is a credit to Nikos, in my opinion. It would be nice to have, though, because then you can switch between ‘apparent’ and ‘true’ wind speeds which is handy for determining tactics.
For about 10 minutes, a group of dolphins comes to swim off our bows. We go sit on the trampoline and bow seat and watch them, watching us. I’ve experienced this often, but I find it thrilling every time. I like how they tilt their heads a little and you can see them looking right at you as you’re leaning over and looking at them. In Alaska we have Dahl porpoise that have black & white markings that look like mini killer whales. These guys were the grayish color similar to ones who played off our boat around Catalina Island (California) a couple of months ago.
When we are about 2 miles from Paros, a squall line approaches. Since the wind was already gusting to 30+, I wasn’t looking forward to additional wind, so I said I thought we should drop the sails and motor the rest of the way. Everyone agreed. Daniel and I went up on the deck to drop the sails and wow, it felt dramatic. Tom pointed us into the wind and we were flying up waves, jumping off the crest and plowing down the next trough. All the while we were dropping the sails and trying to secure everything. I found out later the wind speed was showing 35+ knots. It’s humbling to feel the power of even 1 square meter of sail in a 35 knot breeze.
The wind then dropped a little and the squall line faded away. I think Daniel was worried that I would want to raise the sails again (I didn’t) because word is relayed to me that if I did want to raise the sails, we would need to “have a discussion”. I think our crew is getting tired of handling sails in 40+ MPH winds and we are at risk of mutiny.
Tom motors us into the northern approach to Parikia. Just to the west of us are Portes rocks where in September 2000 the ferry Samina crashed in a gale and 80 people drowned. It was nighttime and the wind was an 8 (34-40 knots), and somehow they managed to rescue 400 people off the ship. Quite an amazing feat, and I had read about how the northern wind and current aggressively sweeps ships toward the rocks, so I kept telling Tom “more left!”.
We got into the harbor, which is protected from the north, but the wind was still whipping up to 30+ knots. We motored over to the marina area, which is actually quite small and there wasn’t any space (as foretold by Jabba the Hutt). There are some nice anchorage areas, though, and we chose an area on the north side of the harbor. We paid extra special attention to setting our anchor since the forecast was for quite strong winds (7-8) tomorrow. This is where we plan to ride out the bad weather on Thursday.
We do a couple of dingy runs to shore and check out the town. We find several marine shops, but none of them have the CO2 cylinders for our vests. Turns out they are special order items. Note to self: bring extra cylinders on the next trip. Both Daniel and I have accidentally inflated our vests during the heat of battle.
We get fairly drenched coming back to Sunday in the dingy (up wind). It’s about 1/3 mile, but 25 knot wind is a bit much for a small dingy with 4 or 5 people. By the time we come back, it’s dark – we are ready for that with flashlights and Daniel flicks Sunday’s lights on and off so we can find her amongst all the other lights.
I suggest that since we have this many people on the boat, we should rotate anchor watch about every hour just to keep an eye on things. The person on watch can read a book, etc. and periodically check to be sure we are not dragging and that nothing else ghastly is happening. There are lots of strange sounds on a boat like ours that is anchored or moored in high winds: clinking, banging, squeeking, gurgling, beeping, etc. If someone is on anchor watch, then the other 7 people can sleep peacefully and hopefully ignore the noises and motions of the boat.
We all went for runs/walks in the morning. Then breakfast at the same café – excellent eggs, omelets, bacon, pastries, Greek Coffee.
We noted that we were running short on rum, which is not a good thing for a sailing vessel. We went back to the tiny store we had visited the day before. The cute shopkeeper lady greeted us with big smiles, laughs, hugs, and kisses on both cheeks. She had two bottles of rum on her shelf, and there was a hand written price on the bottles of 17 Euros. We picked them up and when she saw our interest, she took the bottles away from us. While rapidly explaining something in Greek, she grabbed a magic marker, crossed out the 17 Euros and wrote 19 instead.
We joked about the hyper-inflation on Kithnos, but being aware of our relative isolation and lack of choices, we opted to continue the transaction. We took the bottles back from her. Then she took the bottles back from us again, while explaining in a stream of Greek the reason for her actions. She finally went to a phone on a nearby desk and made a call. We could hear her spelling BACARDI in Greek to someone on the other end of the phone. Then she motioned me over and gave me the phone. There was a man on the other end, obviously long distance, speaking broken English, who explained to me the bottle of rum was now 20 Euros. We bought one bottle instead of two. Daniel, who is a master bargainer, has since (constructively) critiqued our bargaining skills, and the criticisms are duly noted. Admittedly, we were beaten in the negotiations, but I thought we got 3 Euros of entertainment value.
Checked the weather – still forecasting 5-6 from the North. Wednesday is supposed to be about the same, and then it is supposed to get worse (7) on Thursday. So we’ve decided to go east to the island of Siros, then on the next day, south to Paros. We figure that if the weather is nasty on Thursday, Paros would be a good place to be stuck – lots of things to do, and good shelter from the north.
On Siros, we’ll head for the town/harbor of Finikas, which is on the southwest corner of the island, and Paros, we’ll target the main harbor of Parikia.
With The Sheven at the helm again, we had an effortless & stress free departure.
As we headed almost due east to Siros, serious wind and waves on beam. Weather kept building and soon we were triple reefed with a mostly furled jib, making at least 8 knots. Winds went above 30 knots for the 3rd day in a row. I go to my special place, also known as the Sphincter Zone, wondering why every time we hoist the sails the wind goes at least 10 kts faster than it was previously.
Perhaps related, at this point we start realizing that the weather forecasts are probably for the towns/harbors which are usually quite protected. In hindsight, we reckon this is probably why we ended up having winds at least 10-15 knots stronger than forecast on almost every day.
When I’m grinding a line on the winch, my life vest inflation handle gets stuck in the line, yanks, and with a big HISSSSS! my vest inflates. It’s so tight around my neck it’s hard to laugh/talk without sounding like Donald Duck. The second accidental inflation of the trip. Since our vests auto-inflate, I should have had the manual handle snapped inside the vest so it would be less prone to accidental snagging.
In Finikas, we tied up alongside the dock and had fairly good protection from the wind and waves.
We met Dale and his daughter Victoria on a Beneteau Oceanis 42, Itylle 6. They had left Kithnos about an hour after us and were almost fully knocked down by the wind/waves with no jib and a fully reefed main. When they docked, we grabbed their lines and Victoria looked quite shell shocked. I’m guessing she is around 14 years old. She was just standing on the deck with big wide eyes, and I’m pretty sure if she could have pushed some magic button and been beamed any place else in the world, she would have.
Went to a yummy taverna/restaurant – all 8 of us.
We were the only party there for a while, then another group came in of charter sailors and their hired captain. We think the captain was American, but he kept going into and out of various accents. He reminded me of a cross between Jabba the Hutt (Star Wars) and Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World. (“Stay Thirsty, My Friend”)
When he found out we were on the Cat in the harbor, we had an interesting conversation. Snippet:
Jabba the Hutt (in suave accent mode): You know, they are ruining the Mediterranean.
Me: Who is ruining the Mediterranean?
Jabba: They pull into a port, and the people never get off the boat. They never eat at local restaurants, go get laundry done, or help support the local economy. They are ruining the Mediterranean.
This seemed like a strange thing to tell a group of 8 people who are off a catamaran and you meet them eating at a restaurant.
Jabba: And they are too large and take up too much room.
This also seemed strange coming from a morbidly obese guy who barely fit on a normal chair. Yes, I was thinking, our boat is fairly big, but we have eight people on it, so volume per person was probably about the same as Jabba’s sloop.
He also told us that going to Paros was a foolish idea because of the weather and that they wouldn’t allow our boat (a horrible catamaran) in the marina. I was bone tired and buzzed from the wine and decided to not engage in any verbal light sword action. This was the first time I’d ever put a big Cat thru its paces, too, so I was still forming my opinion.
In hindsight, I’d be willing to bet that Jabba had never sailed on a Catamaran, and he probably had some penis envy brewing because our boat was bigger, more comfortable, faster, and we could sit at our table in the boat with a 360 degree panoramic view. There has also been speculation by our crew that he was pounding his chest to look better in front of his paid charter customers.
We enjoyed the cute town of Finikas, although we didn’t get to spend a lot of time there because we wanted to get to Paros before the weather came down on Thursday.
I have to say that I’m impressed with our boat. While I’ve sailed monohulls of all sizes/types my whole life, I’ve only been on a Cat one other time for 3 days. Sunday has handled the big weather amazingly well, and I think we were much more comfortable that we would be with the heeling of a monohull. It has done very well on the big waves, too. Some were in the 12-15 foot range and breaking. I wouldn’t choose to go out in those, but there we were, and the boat did really well. During the rough weather, most of the crew were below sleeping or in the saloon, relatively comfortable. On a monohull, we would have been heeled over at least 30 degrees and rolling more, so they would have needed to be strapped in their berths to sleep.
The whole monohull versus catamaran debate gets into a religious war, but I can say for sure that it was more pleasant for crew who were not outside sailing than if we had been in a monohull.
At one point yesterday, we were pounding through 30+ knots of wind and waves. I was up by the helm and looked down into the saloon. Someone had poured a beer into a pint glass, and it was sitting on the counter, full and not spilling. I’m used (on monohulls) to anything that is unsecured flying all over the boat in those kinds of conditions and found it quite amazing.
I find myself liking our boat. I respect other people’s preferences for monohulls, but the intolerance makes me mad. Yet another example of how bigotry comes in all different flavors – even about the number of hulls that a sailboat has!
Stuff I’m glad we brought: Our handheld marine VHF radios. You can’t hear the ship’s VHF if you are at the helm, so I have my handheld strapped around my neck. Also, my new Icom IC-M34 seems to pick up signals that the VHF in the boat never receives. I don’t know if it’s because my radio is better, or if the antenna on the boat just isn’t hooked up properly. It’s also nice to have the handhelds when we communicate with our crew on shore or in the dingy. Mine is also waterproof and floats. I love my radio. Is that wrong?
Note from the future: We found out the ship’s radio wasn’t working. Nikos did some radio checks when we got back to Athens and got no reply, so we couldn’t really have called anyone for help, other than the Spot Connect at we brought.
In the morning, the wind had let up enough that we could safely dingy to the shore and hike up to the Temple of Poseidon.
We stopped at the taverna there and drank some yummy Greek Coffee, tea and Ouzo. I like Greek Coffee – it has an “earthy” taste that some say it tastes more like dirt. It’s strong and effective.
The Temple is a really beautiful thing and it’s wild to think that it’s been standing up there since 400 years before Christ. We attempt to improve our luck with the weather and sea by procuring an alabaster bust of Poseidon, which we duct tape to the window sill on the front of our boat. Being Alaskans, we are comforted by the presence of duct tape, and it’s special ‘non-residue’ tape so we don’t mess up Nikos’ nice boat.
Although we still didn’t have a weather forecast, it looked better and the other boats were leaving, so we figured we would be okay to head out.
We packed up and headed out of the bay, destination the island of Kithnos. We targeted a small town/harbor/marina called Loutra on the east side of the island which seemed to be heavily sheltered from the north wind.
There is a long north/south reach of water between Kea and the mainland which we had to cross to get to Kithos. Because of the long reach as we got offshore there were some large waves, 8-12 ft. Some of the waves were clearly larger than the others, and every once in a while, we would say “Wow, look at that one!” as it bore down upon us. You could also hear the hiss of them coming. Susan chose not to look and just listened to them. The boat did really well riding the waves, though, and they rarely broke and splashed us.
The wind built steadily and by the time we got to the lee of Kea, we were triple reefed, the jib was mostly furled, and we were ripping along at 9-10 kts. It was a pounding ride, but by the time it got bad, we were already more than half way. The highest wind we saw was about 35 knots. It might have been higher, but that’s what we saw during the periodic furtive glances at instruments. We were on a beam reach, so there was a fair amount of rolling and occasional bridgedeck slamming.
We rounded the north end of Kithnos, turned and ran downwind to just off of Loutra, dropped the sails and motored into the tiny harbor. Straight into our next episode of Med Mooring social drama.
As we approached the dock, the nice harbormaster graciously and clearly motioned us where to park. We did a quick assessment and noticed that the other boats had dropped anchors and were doing stern-to med mooring. Sheven spun the boat around, reversed, we dropped the anchor and backed up to the wall next to another boat, exactly where the harbormaster directed. The adjacent boat occupants were wound pretty tight and several of them proceeded to come out and shout things at us. “My Line! My Line! My Anchor!”. They were part of a group of germans on several Bavaria sloops that seemed to be travelling in a pack.
When you dock a 20,000 pound boat by backing up in a strong crosswind, the first thing you should do is get the boat secured and stable, then worry about the subtleties. Our neighbors were out yelling at us about putting our stern line over theirs before we could even get things stabilized. Our anchor had dragged and not set, so we (Daniel & Barb) had to get the dingy off the stern, motor it around, grab the anchor, drive it out about 150 FT, and drop it. We had to make 3 attempts before the anchor finally caught. All the while, our high strung neighbors were throwing their hands in the air, shouting and gesturing. In the end, we moored fine, nothing was damaged, nobody was hurt, and none of our lines were on top of our neighbors. And it would have been the same result without our neighbor’s theatrics.
After the drama ended, everything settled, and it was a beautiful little village.
We walked along the shore and found a nice little restaurant, had a great dinner and the best Greek Salad I’ve ever had. The Greeks take their tomatoes and Feta cheese quite seriously and we were to benefit from that multiple times per day.
Sheven was at the helm the whole day and did a great job. She also does really well on the deck in bad weather, has a great/wicked sense of humor and is very low maintenance. I’m really happy she is along. We decide her non-typical name has a nice nautical sound. Here is her name embedded with real nautical terms: gudgeon, pintle, forestay, furler, sheven, keel, tack. We start to call her “The Sheven” like she’s a part of the boat. When we dock and other sailors come up to talk about the boat, sails, gear, etc. we can point out that the boat has a 1.3 meter draft and a solid 1.7 meter sheven.
We got WiFi from the little café/tavern, and scarfed up lots of weather info. The forecast is for 5 and 6 Beaufort for tomorrow.
There is a hot springs along the shore, and Michele went swimming where the hot springs dumps into the sea.
When Daniel was heroically trying to get the anchor set on our arrival, at one point he reached down into the anchor locker and his life preserver deployment handle got caught on the side and with an alarming hiss his life vest inflated. He managed to wiggle out of the locker before he got pinned in the hatch. Therein began our search for another CO2 cartridge.
When we walked into town, there was a tiny store that had a sign saying it had all types of things for boats.
I went in and tried to pantomime a CO2 cylinder for the very cute lady (about 75 years old) who ran the place. She only spoke Greek and I only know a couple of Greek words. We were not successful, although she kept grabbing me by the arm, taking me to look at various products and trying to convince me this is what we needed. We had an excellent transaction with her the next day too.
We woke up early and tried to deconstruct our spider web before anyone could see it. The wind was still strong from the north, but not quite as strong as it seemed the night before.
We decided to head for the island Kithnos instead of Sounion Bay because it would get us off the mainland and into the Cyclades Islands. I was a little bummed because I had been reading about the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion and was looking forward to seeing it. The temple was built around 440 BC as an offering to Poseidon (Greek God of the Sea), I think to appease him and hopefully get fair winds/seas. Sounion is also the place where Aegeus, King of Athens committed suicide by jumping into the sea, and thereby giving the Aegean Sea its name.
We soon learned that Poseidon gets pissed off if you dis him by not stopping by the temple.
We hoisted sails and started heading east. The wind was building some and was around 20 knots. We had one reef in the main and we romped along at 7.5 knots.
I’d had my VHF radio around my neck doing the automatic channel scan for any weather information. We passed about 5 miles south of Sounion and could see the Temple of Posidon way off on top of the point – pretty neat.
Shortly after not stopping by to see Poseidon’s temple, the radio crackled with a bunch of Greek words, but imbedded in there was the broken English phrase ‘Gale Warning’. They then read off a bunch of channel numbers (we think) for more information. We scanned all the channel numbers that were listed, but there was nothing else.
Daniel and I were at the helm, and we did some thoughtful reflection. Does that mean a Gale Warning for our area? Or is it a Gale Warning someplace else in Greece, like the Ionian? We put another reef in the main for good measure. The winds were around 26-28 knots.
They built fairly quickly over 30 knots, and we decided to abort our crossing to Kithnos and go say hello to Poseidon’s temple. Daniel & Tom went on the deck to secure the sails and it was quite a dramatic moment. We saw the winds go to at least 35 knots (probably more), which is officially a Gale, and it started raining (sideways). We had to head up into the wind to get the sails down which meant that we were slamming up and down straight into the waves. I would guess that the vertical motion of the bow going up and down was at least 20-25 FT vertical.
Our other rookie mistake is we didn’t have the harnesses & tethers ready, and we shouldn’t have had Daniel and Tom on the deck without them. Harnesses are straps that go around your body, and tethers are about 6 FT long straps that go from the harness (and your body) to secure places on the boat or onto a line/strap that runs along the boat. They basically keep you from being blown or thrown off the boat. It was a combination of luck and the fact that Tom and Daniel are pretty tough that kept them from being tossed into the foaming drink.
After their epic battle with the sails, Daniel & Tom looked like they had been hosed down with a high pressure fire hose.
We pounded our way back to the relative calm of Sounion Bay, just below the Temple of Poseidon.
Dropped the anchor on the north side of the bay, in front of a small church. Seemed to be sandy bottom, good holding. Two other boats were in the bay when we arrived and 4 others crawled in later. We posted an anchor watch all night, to be sure we didn’t start dragging anchor and that the wind direction didn’t change. Nice having 8 people on board, so each person is awake for about an hour during the night. On this night, though, I was fairly wired (and still on Alaska time, -11 hours) and Michele and I stayed up all night talking.
We estimated the wind outside the bay to be at well over 40 knots during the night since it got to 30 knots inside the sheltered bay.
Stuff I’m glad we brought: Our self-inflating life vests, with integral harness, and our tethers. The life vests on the boat are the gigantic orange ones and would be really cumbersome to wear and you would get even more blown around by the wind when on deck. There are separate safety harnesses on the boat, but it’s much more tidy and easy if they are integral with the life vest. I’ve done quite a bit of sailing and rarely had to use this equipment. Little did I know that I would be wearing this stuff most of the trip and my swim suit would be unused.
Stuff I wish I had: A serious blanket. We’re getting fairly cold overnight and the blankets on the boat are the same as the little blankets you get on airline flights. I dream of our puffy down comforter at home, but would be thrilled with just a sleeping bag to throw over us.
We do have a generator onboard, and if we start it, we can use the boat’s heating system. However, if we start it, it wakes everyone up. It also sounds like the engines, so sleeping crew tend to think something is wrong. We finally decide the person on anchor watch can start the generator every couple of hours during the night to pump some heat into the cabins.
Stuff I’m glad I brought: My Spot GPS location device. It doesn’t rely on shore radio, internet, etc. It receives GPS signal from satellite and sends our location back via satellite. I’ve got the new version called ‘Spot Connect’ that also lets us send small (about 41 characters) text messages from my iPhone. For example, after we hit the gale and got safely anchored: “Safely at Anchor”. The reason this is so nice is that we don’t have any other way to let friends and family know where we are and that we are okay. Also there is an SOS button that supposedly goes to a global rescue center which dispatches local help. I used the Tracking feature of Spot to track our entire trip and friends/family could check it from a web browser.
I then used the Tracking data to make the maps that are on this Blog. It only cost about $160 plus an annual service fee of somewhere around $100. For what it does, I think that’s an amazing value.
The iPhone app seems a little buggy to me – you have to re-establish the BlueTooth connection each day when you turn Tracking on, and a few other irritating things. However the product is brand new (a couple of weeks old) and I’m sure they’ll get the bugs worked out . The Spot manual says to use only “2 AA Energizer Ultimate Lithium 8X batteries”, and it’s true. After I had to swap batteries, I could only find normal Alkaline, and they only lasted a day or two in track mode. There is probably a way to wire it into the ship’s 12 volt system, but I never had a chance to research that.
June, Daniel, Susan, Sheven and I had an early (7am) breakfast at the Poseidon Hotel. The restaurant is on the top floor and offers an excellent view of the ocean and Kalamaki marina below. Not knowing where to get weather info, we logged onto weather.com and got a general idea that it was going to be overcast, rainy and windy. Land dwellers aren’t quite as attuned to the important differences in the ‘windy’ spectrum. Both 20 and 35 knots can be considered windy, but the former is comfortable for sailing and the latter can be a little too exciting. FYI, a knot (or Nautical Mile ) is about 1.15 regular US ‘statute’ miles.
Daniel & June had done some recon the night before and found out our boat is called ‘Sunday’ and it is located on the other side of the marina from where the Moorings “office” is located. They met the boat owner, who was busy cleaning the boat up and he said The Moorings would be giving us the full briefing in the morning (today). We decided to lug our gear to the boat, leave someone there to guard it, then go coordinate with The Moorings.
When we were researching which company to rent a boat from, we did a lot of internet surfing. There were several “big name” international charter outfits, and many smaller Greek outfits. We were worried about renting through a smaller Greek person/company because we didn’t know the area, the operators, etc. The last thing we wanted was to fly to the other side of the earth and get a bad or broken boat, no support, etc. We were willing to pay the extra premium and go with a big name. The Mooring is a big, well known company and seemed to be the safest bet.
The Moorings “office” was really a working area out on Dock 2, and when our contingency arrived there to coordinate, it was interesting and not what I expected of The Moorings. They seemed surprised to see us, and we weren’t really sure we were in the right place, if this was The Moorings, etc. There were several staff there and they had a rapid discussion in Greek which seemed like they were trying to decide what they were going to do with us. We stood around awkwardly for 10-15 minutes, trying to discern what was being said and if we had the right place.
Finally a nice young lady must have drawn the short straw, because she came forward and said she was going to show us where our boat was. We told her we already knew where the boat was because we’d piled our gear there. Nonetheless, she walked us back around to where the boat was. It was about a 15 minute walk back around the marina to the boat, during which time she said the owner would be coming to brief us on the boat. We told her we had met the owner the night before and he said someone from The Moorings was going to brief us. She seemed puzzled by this, and since our communications were in broken English and lots of gestures, we weren’t really sure what was going on.
We arrived back at the boat to find that the owner (Nikos) was now on board the boat with his helper (Rauli), cleaning and taking care of details. Our gear was all piled on the narrow dock, barely out of the way of the cars that would go zipping by. As an aside, we’ve noticed that in Greece, pedestrians don’t have any kind of right-of-way over vehicles and the vehicles seem quite willing and eager to demonstrate such. On one crowded Athens street when we were riding in a taxi, we saw a car hit a pedestrian and knock him down. The pedestrian then jumped up and apologized, then scurried to the side while the driver continued honking and gesturing. Ah! Things are much more simple without attorneys!
We sent a detail to shore for provisioning (groceries) while we waited. At some point, Nikos emerged from the boat. When we told him our understanding was that he would be giving us the briefing on the boat, he seemed quite surprised. He went off to the side, got on his cell phone a couple of times and had some heated discussions in Greek, then came back and said that yes, he would be giving us the boat briefing around noon.
It seems that most discussions that Greeks have sound like they are heated: loud, fast, and aggressive. In reality, I think it’s more of a speaking style and you can’t really read too much into how it sounds.
Tom, Barb and Michele arrived around 11:30am with all the gear. Excellent fortune for us: all of our people and gear had arrived as per plan. Michele, in fact was several days early since she was planning to meet us Wednesday on Paros.
The provisioning crew came back in a couple of taxis loaded with food, water, wine, rum and other critical substances. We hang out on the dock, dodging cars and motorcycles, and looking at the beautiful boats.
Around 1pm, Nikos emerged from our boat (actually, it was his boat) and said he was ready for the briefing. Sheven, Daniel, and I participated, and it involved crawling all over the inside and outside of the boat and talking about everything. A boat like this is quite complex and there are many dozens of important details: electrical, water, sewer, galley, sailing gear, fuel, dingy, etc. Nikos did an excellent job – he is obviously very detail oriented, which is something you want in a boat owner and someone who is briefing you on a boat that your life and comfort will depend on for a couple of weeks. His English was also quite good, and with only a couple exceptions, we understood everything.
Around 3:30pm we were mostly done with the boat briefing and the man from The Moorings showed up. His main objective was to get my credit card as a deposit to cover the insurance deductible. He seemed anxious to get the credit card and leave. A nice guy, he smiled a lot and seemed quite charming. I started asking him some questions, like …
Me: “what about the weather?”
Moorings Guy: “what about the weather?”
Me: “how do we get a forecast?”
Moorings Guy: “just listen to radio channel 16, then maybe switch to 25”
I therefore thought they would have continuous forecasts being broadcast, like in the US, which was totally wrong, and we almost never got usable weather info from the VHF.
Moorings Guy: “have a good trip”.
Me: “Wait … what about going into a port?”
Moorings Guy: “what about going into a port?”
Me: “are we required to check in with harbormasters, officials, or anything?”
Moorings Guy: “not usually. If someone asks you for the ship papers, just show them this blue binder. Don’t let anyone take it from you, though, because it takes months to replace the paperwork”.
Moorings Guy: “have a good trip”.
Me: “Wait … is there anything else we should be aware of?”
Moorings Guy (charming smile): “just have a good trip”.
And that was the extent of the “thorough briefing” from The Moorings on local conditions, weather, hazards, itinerary planning, how to do Mediterranean Moorings, what to expect in marinas, docks, and all of the other details can be very important.
A snippet from The Moorings web site:
We start to wonder about the apparent differences between what we were expecting from The Moorings and the reality here. We are not sure, but we speculate that “The Moorings” people might be subcontractors and that this is not really a formal “base” for The Moorings. In fairness, we seem to be one of the first rentals of the sailing season, and maybe they are shaking the bugs out.
We give Nikos, the boat owner an “A+” on the boat briefing and the condition of his boat. He is very professional, the boat is spotless and looks almost brand new even though it’s a couple years old. We give The Moorings an “F” on everything else related to our departure. It was quite disappointing, and we are not difficult to please.
I feel very lucky because we have a highly experienced boating crew. While Sheven and I are the ones with most of the sailing experience (and ASA certifications), the Constantines and Locklairs have ocean-going power boats in Alaska and have dealt with all kinds of conditions. I can’t imagine if someone had the minimal requirements to bareboat and they left with an inexperienced crew – it could easily be disastrous. I’m also glad we had done some reading about sailing in Greece beforehand.
So finally, around 4:30pm we were ready to go. Getting the boat out was interesting. In the US, there are slips for each boat. In Greek marinas (at least the ones we’ve seen so far), there are moorings or anchors on the bow of the boat and the boat is backed up to the dock. This is called a Mediterranean Mooring (aka Med Mooring). There are no pilings or docks to separate the boats. The boat was quite jammed in place – with about 6″ between our hulls and the adjacent boats, with fenders (inflated rubber things) jammed between the two hulls. The fairway that we had to pull the boat into to get out was very narrow and the bow/anchorage lines from all the other boats ran into the fairway, making it even narrower.
I’d never driven a Cat this big, and was a little nervous. As we were casting off, Nikos asked “where are you going?.” This was the first time anyone asked anything about itinerary, and we said Sounion Bay. In hindsight, it was unrealistically far away to get there before sunset, but he smiled and said “ok”.
Then he stood on the adjacent boat and shouted things at us like “forward! backward!” seemingly at the same time, while our excellent crew ran around with fenders and pushed us off of the adjacent boats. Then he smiled and waved goodbye as we inched down the fairway and into the Saronic Gulf.
While I might whine about the non-existent customer service from The Moorings, I have to say that it also added to the excitement of our trip. We were really on our own, and needed to figure things out on our own. Big boat, in a foreign land with nasty weather and no safety net. Our Big Adventure begins.
Nikos was an excellent guy and it’s hard for me to imagine what our departure from Athens would have been like without him.
We motored east toward Sounion for about 30 minutes and gathered our wits after the frenetic departure. The wind was blowing about 10 kts, so we hoisted the sails and sailed a while. Then we did the math and realized there was no way we could get to Sounion before sunset, so we grabbed the charts and the Greek Waters Pilot and looked for another spot that would be protected from the north wind.
The Greek Waters Pilot is the bible of sailing in Greece. An amazing compilation of knowledge, I had heard about it and bought one before leaving the US. There was also one on the boat.
The north wind starting picking up to about 20 kts, and we ducked into Varkizas, along the mainland shore. There is a tiny marina there with mostly small fishing boats – not really well suited for our kind of boat. But the wind kept getting stronger and it was getting darker, so we decided it was going to work for us. We dropped the anchor south of the jetty. It set fine, but we were nervous about dragging anchor into the shore, so we headed into the marina to see if we could tie up.
This was our introduction to the social drama that is involved with Med Mooring. I’d read about how people materialize out of nowhere and start shouting (and helping). Sure enough a couple of older greek fishermen-looking guys showed up and started shouting, grabbing lines, etc. They were very helpful and seemed to know what they were doing. This is in contrast to other Med Mooring yellers who were often wrong and unnecessary. We learned to treat whatever was being yelled at us like something you would read on a blog: it might be correct and excellent advice, or it might be completely wrong and ignorant.
There was a fixed mooring marked by a float, which we grabbed and tied bow towards the dock. We weren’t really sure if the float was for a mooring or some kind of fishing thing, but we grabbed it and pulled hard and it kept, so we presumed it to be a fixed mooring. The mooring was for a boat about half as big as our boat, so we ended up cleating it amidships. We then concocted a spider web of lines to various places on the shore and adjacent fishing boats. It looked pretty hideous but we were worried about the building north wind and it was dark, so we hoped nobody could see our contraption.
After we were mostly secured, one of the Greek fishermen said ominously in a thick Greek accent “Big Boat, Big Problems”.
If someone had said this a little later in our trip, when we knew the boat, had survived a few Gale winds, and knew how things worked, it probably would have slid right off our backs. However, because we were all a little edgy and still figuring things out, I was wondering if we really knew what we were getting ourselves into. We were also a little sensitive about our virginal Med Mooring.
We still hadn’t been able to find any weather forecasts on the radio (as per The Moorings guy), so I asked one of the fishermen who spoke English if he knew what the wind forecast was. He said “7 from the north”. Excellent! I thought. A nice light wind for our first real day of sailing! I thought he meant 7 knots of wind, and I thought to myself that seemed like a very precise number for a forecast.
Rookie Greek Sailor Mistake, and something that it would have been nice of The Moorings people to mention. We have since learned that in Greece, when they say a number like 2 through 8 for weather, it’s a number on the Beaufort Scale. Force 7 means the wind will be 28-33 knots (31-38 mph), sea state=”Sea heads up, foam in streaks”, aka “near gale”.
Turns out they under estimated that a little, too.
Note for fellow mapping nerds: I used a Spot Connect device to capture the location of the boat every 10 minutes, then I used ArcGIS software to map the Spot coordinates to produce maps like the one above. Click Here to see our final route.
This is the start of our 2 week charter catamaran trip around the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea, Greece.
5/8ths of the crew has arrived in Athens. Daniel & June arrived first and did an excellent recon job. Found grocery store, found the boat (it wasn’t trivial). Mark, Suz, Sheven arrived Friday early evening. Strolled around marina and found what we thought was the boat (it wasn’t).
Daniel & June were told the boat is named ‘Sunday’ and it’s off on a different dock. They found the boat in the large marina, amoungst 100s of vessels. The owner was still doing last-minute provisioning and gearing up – we think this is the first charter of the season for her. They said the boat looked great, which is nice since she’ll be our home for 2 weeks! She’s a Lagoon 420, which is a 42 FT cruising catamaran.
Athens is as I remembered it from about 20 years ago. Quite a sprawling urban place. Like any city, a real mix of people, busy, a little dirty. Everyone has been very nice so far, although there were a group of rowdies howling outside our hotel window until at least 5am. Which is why I’m down in the lobby killing time and starting a blog.
It’s very early in the season, so it’s kind of cool (about 58 F) when we were walking around the marina/beach. The Poseidon Hotel is a nice place, although (as usual) not quite as jazzy as it appears on their web site. The location is excellent, though, and rooms are perfectly adequate (although tiny) and the whole bathroom floor floods when you take a shower.
Little did we know that the plumbing issue was a tiny bit of foreshadowing related to our water/wastewater future in Greece.
Here is a photo of the Beach Bar – we were guessing we would find Daniel and June there, but alas, it was deserted.