Day 1: The Departure from Athens

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.

Our charter catamaran 'Sunday' getting ready to leave Athens.
Our charter catamaran ‘Sunday’ getting ready to leave Athens.

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.

Pilo-o-luggage getting ready to board the boat
Pile of luggage & provisions getting ready to board the boat

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”
Me: “ok”

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”.
Me: “ok”

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:

A quote from The Moorings web site about chart briefings. Not quite what we got!
A quote from The Moorings web site about chart briefings. Not quite what we got!

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.

The boats at the Athens marina are quite jammed into their spaces. That's about 3 inches between boats.
The boats at the Athens marina are quite jammed into their spaces. That’s about 3 inches between our boat on the left, and the adjacent boat.

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.

Driving out of Athens, figuring out the chart plotter.
Driving out of Athens, figuring out the chart plotter.

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.

View of Athens from the Bay
View of Athens from the Bay
Susan doing an advertisement for Mythos beer.
Susan doing an advertisement for Mythos beer.

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 Greek Waters Pilot by Rod Heikell
The Greek Waters Pilot by Rod Heikell

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.

day0FirstMooring
Lovely (and very small) harbor at Varkizas.

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.

Day 1 Map - Departing Athens
Day 1 Map – Departing Athens

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.

 

 

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