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2008 Cruise

2008 May - June

Our early summer cruise consisted  mostly of pottering around the Ionian ‘Inland Sea’ but also included exploring a little of the Gulfs of Patras and Corinth and a visit to the famous classical site of Delphi. This is not a complete log of the trip but descriptions of some parts of the cruise plus comments about a new engine, the frailty of charts, problems with a fishing net, groundings and the results of a fire. During 2007 the old Watermota Sea Panther engine had been an increasing problem, being hard to start and blowing oil from the breather and with numerous oil leaks. The cylinder bores were ‘shot’ and we needed a complete re-build or a replacement. After a bit of research we settled on a Beta Marine 38. This was roughly the same capacity as the old lump, was a 4-cylinder unit would just fit through the doorway into the aft cabin of Kabardar. The latter was important as we were not keen to cut an access hole through the cockpit floor. A Yanmar was considered but it was too wide, had only 3 cylinders and was more expensive.

I went to Preveza in early April and removed the old unit which came out in pieces which were dumped on a pallet underneath Kabardar in its cradle. Almost immediately a German yachtsman asked the fate of the old engine, and I said “scrap”. He then asked if he could have it and I willingly gave it to him. It was spirited away almost at once. What he thought could be done with a clapped out and outdated unit, I have no idea. Perhaps it is now either powering a Greek fishing boat or more likely acting as the weight for a mooring buoy.

With the help of another yachtsman the new engine was lowered down the companionway steps and slowly manoeuvred into place. It took all of one day to shift its 155kg. From the steps to the engine bearers and it cleared the doorway with less than 1cm. to spare. The only serious complication was connecting up the exhaust. The ‘special feet’ provided by Beta Marine made it easy to line up the unit on the bearers.

On 12 May Kabardar was launched and we went into the nearby Amvrakikos Kolpos for a shakedown cruise before heading off further afield. We went to the far end of the gulf looking for Dalmatian Pelicans which are found in the area but which we had never seen. Searching with the binoculars we saw some white birds in the distance but had to admit that these were probably white egrets. So we headed back to the entrance to the gulf at Preveza. Bingo!. Within a mile of the boatyards we saw dozens of pelicans fishing all around us.

For the next 10 days we re-visited familiar places in the ‘Inland Sea’.

On entering the Porto Leone anchorage, where the local goats seem to drink sea water, we saw a line of floats across more than half of the bay. We thought at first this marked an area for swimmers but it was in fact a fishing net. We went round the end of it and anchored. Later the same day the crew of a charter yacht nearby raised their anchor and headed out of the bay. They went straight for the net and even speeded up. The inevitable happened and they ended up with the net tangled around the rudder and propeller. They were in 28m of water and the forecast was for rapidly worsening weather! All that we could do was to go over in the dinghy and suggest that they get at least one anchor down in case the net parted and left them drifting in the forecast strong SW wind. As this was a charter boat they were able to call the home base in Nidri for help. However the sea was too rough for a RIB to come from there so a flotilla lead boat came from nearby Kalamos but without either an anchor or a dinghy. It took some 2 hours to get them free. As if this was not fun enough, the following evening another charter boat with a Dutch couple on board also became entangled in another net. They were however not to blame as the gearbox had failed as they were anchoring and they had drifted into the net. The first we knew of this second shipwreck was when we heard the woman on board shouting “help – help”. We went across in the dinghy but they were in no immediate danger as there was little wind or sea. All we needed to do was to leave the VHF on so that they could call us for help if needed. The charter company sent an engineer in a RIB who sorted out their problems.

On 26 May we sailed round into the Gulf of Patras and into the port of Mesolonghi. This is a strange town some 2M in from the coast but surrounded on 3 sides with shallow saltwater lagoons. We tied up alongside a wave breaker for what one day may become a marina. The port is accessed by a 2M dredged channel through the marshes and is used by fair sized coasters. Woe betides any yacht that anchors in the wrong place – loud hoots early in the morning!

From there we sailed E under the Rion bridge which is about the same size as the Humber Bridge but with 4 towers. (If you think that the Humber Bridge tolls are steep, those for the Rion Bridge are €10!)

Soon after the bridge we tied up in the tiny medieval harbour of Navpaktos. This is an oval, perhaps 100m. X 50m. with crenellated walls on 3 sides. This town used to be called Lepanto and in 1571 was the place of a big sea battle against the Turks. One of the crew on a Spanish ship fighting against the Turks was Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Qixote) who was wounded. There is a statue of him near the harbour.

On 29 May we sailed on to Trizonia, which is an island in the Gulf of Corinth. Here we availed ourselves of a space in the unfinished marina. We needed fresh water as did a German yacht nearby. To reach the nearest tap we had to borrow hoses from an American and a Canadian yacht. The 4 hoses were just long enough and multinational teamwork prevailed! From Trizonia we went on, with a stop at Anemokambi, to Itea and another unfinished marina. This is the nearest place to leave a yacht in order to visit the classical site of the Oracle at Delphi. This is in a wonderful location on the slopes of Mount Parnassos but it is not easy to imagine the temples etc. from the broken stones that remain.

After Delphi we returned W via Trizonia and Mesolonghi and spent the next 2 weeks pottering around the ‘Inland Sea’. One attractive anchorage that we used was Port St Nicholas on the NE of Ithaka. We could see a few yachts anchored there in a bay sheltered by a rocky islet but we had no pilotage information and even our smallest scale chart was unclear. However we crept in carefully through the southern entrance and anchored. Ferries to and from Patras pass quite close to this bay and their wash sent waves into the anchorage. We noticed that in the northern entrance these waves were breaking on a small reef but there was nothing shown on the charts! The following day we watched a motor yacht come racing in and heading for the reef. It seemed to slow suddenly and then come on in, but it then drove straight up the beach. It had struck the reef and was holed and with damage to the rudders and one propeller. When we were home in the summer we looked at the spot on Google Earth and sure enough the reef shows as a patch of white in the sea.

On our way back to Preveza we called in to Tranquil Bay near Nidri.  Going ashore we saw the remains of a yacht that had caught fire, burned down to the waterline and sunk. The heat had melted the bottom of the mast! It was rumoured that the cause was an electrical fault.

So far we had seen others have various mishaps, now it was our turn. The northern entrance to the Levkas Canal has become increasingly difficult as the silting has created a sandspit further to the E. On the S side of the entrance there were a few very makeshift red buoys supposedly marking some rocks. As the water here is shallow, we were going slowly and following an Italian yacht, with the red marks well clear to starboard and with the sounder showing almost a metre to spare under the keel. First a boat ahead struck something several times but kept going, we however touched a couple of times then stuck. A fishing boat leaving the Canal offered to take a line from the masthead and we were off in seconds. We proffered €5 as a thank-you but the fisherman indicated that he wanted €50 Astounded by this we refused and re-offered the €5. Having no language in common and feeling that the situation had a smack of piracy about it we opened the throttle and left him with nothing. We subsequently noticed that this entrance to the canal now has many buoys which are further from the shore! We also later learned that at least one yacht a week was being caught by these rocks and have wondered if the placing of the makeshift buoys was a money making venture.. The front of our keel was damaged but it was a minor problem and soon repaired.

Kabardar was lifted out for the summer on 20 June and our early season cruise had taken us 556M.

Sailing in a popular area like the Greek Ionian it is difficult to avoid the flotillas. The problem with them is that by definition they hunt in packs and are very skilled at destroying the peace of a harbour or anchorage. There are of course many bareboat charter yachts as well but generally they are sailed by experienced crews and don’t go around in gangs. However well disposed one is towards people who are enjoying what is often their first taste of cruising under sail, it is galling to have the beauty and peace of an anchorage, with a few boats in it, shattered by the arrival of a 10 boat flotilla. In Porto Leone on Kalamos a flotilla arrived in dribs and drabs and anchored themselves into raft, all directed by what appeared to be a self styled admiral. However when the pack leader arrived he was not happy with this and all the anchors had to come up again and be re-laid, this time with lines ashore as well. The net result was 2 hours of roaring and rattling of chains and windlasses, plus all the VHF cockpit speakers going full blast and the noise of the outboard on the flotilla leader’s dinghy. Normally flotillas only use places where there are bars and restaurants, however Potrto Leone is used because there is a scrap of beach which is used for barbecues and parties.. Our lot had a toga party, all dolled up in old sheets and bits of olive to make their crowns.

2008 August - September

The plan for our late summer / early autumn cruise in ‘Kabardar’ was to circumnavigate the Peloponnesos in Greece. Originally we planned to go round clockwise through the Gulf of Corinth and the Corinth Canal, from there south and west around the ends of the 3 peninsulas that are like fingers pointing SE from the Peloponnesos, and finally back up the S Ionian coast. However we decided to defer the substantial cost of the canal transit until later and hence we set off anti-clockwise and not the normal clockwise route to fit in with the prevailing winds in the Corinthian and Saronic Gulfs. This choice did however gave us the challenge of rounding Cape Malea, the ‘Cape Horn’ of Greece against the prevailing wind. (More about this later). The crew for this cruise was just the two us, no visitors this time.

Kabardar was re-launched at Preveza on 21 Aug and we immediately left for Levkas, 9M away. After one night at anchor there we were away again on 22 Aug and sailed 39M SE to Limin Petala, which is a large and almost totally enclosed bay with shallow water and mud for the anchor. Away early the following morning, 23 Aug, we sailed 46M S to Zakinthos Town Harbour. Here we backed neatly (for Kabardar) into the space indicated by the Harbourmaster only to be brought up with a bump a little short of the quay by a submerged obstruction. Fortunately the rudder, which was in the firing line suffered no worse than scraped antifouling. This did however illustrate why it can be better to go bows-to, even if this does require using the kedge anchor.

We escaped from this package holiday heaven as soon as possible on 24 Aug and sailed 29M across to the port of Katakolou on the W coast of the Peloponnesos. This port is the closest to the site of ancient Olympia and seemed to be principally focussed on handling visiting cruise ships. (It started life as a port for the export of currants!)  Here we struggled to find food shops but there were numerous tavernas and souvenir shops. Kathleen has her own index for judging the quality of towns and villages, which is based on the quality of their greengrocers, if any!  Kathakolou scored badly.

On 25 Aug we had a long but enjoyable day’s sail 59M propelled S by the prevailing NW winds. For a couple of hours we had the spinnaker up. Later in the day we had a grandstand view of the operations of 2 fire-fighting seaplanes tackling a fire on a mountainside just in from the coast. At one point they were making their water pick up runs heading straight towards us. This day’s run brought us to the large and famous circular bay of Navarino, which has a high and rocky island protecting the seaward side and only a narrow entrance. In 1821 this was the place of the naval Battle of Navarino in which a combined British, French and Russian fleet literally blew away a very much larger Turkish fleet and ended the Turkish attempt to keep Greece in the Ottoman Empire. Excursion boats from the port of Pilos in the S of the bay, take visitors out to see the remains of the Turkish ships rotting on the sea bed.

So far our cruise had been a matter of covering miles south but we were now in the South Ionian and the start of our target cruising area. We spent 2 nights anchored at the N of Navarino bay adjacent to a Greek rarity, a nature reserve. This was intended to protect migrating birds and turtles. On a short walk we saw neither but did see some Swallowtail butterflies, which are rare here in the UK.

So far we had enjoyed standard Mediterranean summer weather with clear skies, temperatures of 30 - 35°C, and the normal thermal winds which are generally from the NW, light in the morning and building to F4/5 by 1800 before going light or calm overnight.

On 27 Aug we sailed the short 13M round the first of the fingers of the Peloponnesos to the anchorage at Methoni. This town has a vast ruined Venetian fortress with a striking Turkish tower at it’s seaward end. The southern Peloponnesos has had a confused history of conquest and re-conquest involving Byzantines, Franks, Venetians, Turks and finally the Greeks in their struggle for independence. We were discovering that there is much more of historical interest in Greece than classical ruins. On 28 Aug we sailed on 20M round to Koroni which also boasts the ruin of a Venetian fortress. These two fortified towns were described as the ‘eyes of the serene republic’ and commanded the shipping routes around the southern Peloponnesos.

Now that we had turned the first corner, the prevailing winds were now more W and SW which gave us an easy sail on 29 Aug covering 17m N to the city of Kalamata where we berthed in the marina, one of the few in Greece. This was so that we could hire a car and explore the Mani peninsula and visit the abandoned Byzantine city of Mystra. The Mani is known for it’s tower houses, built as mini-castles and refuges from the relentless blood feuds of a feudal society that lasted until the end of the 19th C. Some of these battles between families or villages could last for years and the last big battle, which took place in 1870, required a full regular army detachment to impose the peace. The Turkish rulers never managed to really control the area and simply built two castles to control the neck of the peninsula.

The Mani peninsula is very mountainous, rising to over 2400m, and the road from Kalamata to Sparta goes through the 1500m Lambadha pass and is a spectacular drive through the gorge on the Sparta side. Near Sparta is the abandoned Byzantine city of Mystra which is now a World Heritage Site. We explored the ruins which range down from a citadel on the mountain top to the houses of the town and several churches complete with 14th C. frescos. There is a still functioning monastery and the ruins of the Despot’s palace which is being restored, with Unesco money.

The tip of this SE pointing finger of the Peloponnesos is Cape Tainaro or Matapan and is the southernmost point of mainland Greece and only a few minutes of latitude N of Tarifa in Spain which is mainland Europe‘s most southerly point.

At this point in our trip the summer weather was briefly interrupted as in Kalamata and over the mountains there was a good deal of cloud and a thunderstorm. We left Kalamata on 2 Sept and headed 32M down the W coast of the Mani to the anchorage at Limani. This village has a building that looks like an English parish church but which was actually the fortified house of the local 19th c. war-lord, one Petrobey Mavromichaelis. On 3 Sept we rounded Cape Tainaro and anchored in Porto Kayio having covered 28M.

From Porto Kayio on 24 Sept we sailed 27M E across the Lakonikos Kolpos to the anchorage on the S side of the island of Elafonisos. This is a popular anchorage some 15M to the W of the tip of the third finger of the Peloponnesos, which is Cape Malea. This high headland is known for it’s difficult weather as it is a wind acceleration zone, the meeting point for the weather systems of the Kithira and Aegean seas and it is something of a focal point for the tracks of depressions. The Meltemi in the area blows from the NE and the SE pointing cape is some 600m high. The result can be severe gusts and big seas around the cape which are reputed to sometimes prevent yachts from passing W to E for days or even weeks at a time. The anchorage on Elafonisos is an attractive bay with a sandy beach but is open to the S and we had a somewhat uncomfortable night because of the swell, or more likely the wash from the numerous passing ships.

However on 5 Sept we approached the ‘Cape Horn’ of Greece with a light southerly. At the cape the wind was very variable and although there were a few gusts, we motored round into the Aegean wondering what all the fuss was about. In a light northerly we tacked and then motored NW to Monemvasia having covered 39M.

Monemvasia is another Byzantine fortified town and is in a spectacular location on a rocky island linked to the shore by a causeway. It is justifiably a popular tourist attraction. It was never taken by storm although it was besieged and starved out several times. The last time that this happened was in 1821 during the Greek war of independence and it was the first Turkish stronghold to be taken by the Greeks. The victorious Maniote Greeks adopted the Turkish approach to the surrendering inhabitants, they killed them all! During the 4 month siege, Greek propaganda had it that the mostly Turkish defenders were not only eating rats etc but were also tucking in to the children of the few Greek residents!

In the anchorage at Monemvasia we saw many large jellyfish, some the size of a dinner plate. When we went ashore in the dinghy, even though we tried to avoid them, the propeller on the outboard chopped up a few of them. From one side these jellyfish resembled oversize fried eggs!

We then decided to go E and visit a few of the nearer Cyclades as a sample of the Aegean islands, so on 7 Sept we set out early and headed almost due E bound for the island of Milos. The wind started light from the N but gradually settled to the Meltemi direction of NNE and F5/6. We sailed very rapidly under main, reefed at times, staysail and a bit of the genoa. Bashing along at 7kts plus was great but of course there was a drawback as the sea was rough with the short steep waves that are typical of the Mediterranean. Progress was wet and uncomfortable and the sea became worse as we progressed E also the state of the sea made steering anything resembling a straight course difficult. By late afternoon we were into the lee of the island of Antimilos and we hoped for a bit of respite from the sea, however we found out that the lee sides of high islands can be more dangerous than the weather sides as big gusts rush down from the high land. Also we found that the waves rebounding from the rocks and cliffs created a very confused sea for the remaining miles to the huge natural harbour of Milos. By then the wind had veered a little and we had to motor-sail to keep our course. We were not in the mood for tacking! We arrived into the relative peace of Milos harbour at 1930 having logged 87M. As the charted distance was about 70M the log reading was perhaps affected by our variable course, the waves and a slight adverse current. Having arrived tired, we prepared to drop anchor in 8m of water at least 100m from the nearest anchored yacht. However we were surprised by the hostile reaction of the skipper of a German flagged yacht who thought that we were too close. Why he thought that he needed 100m of scope remains a puzzle. So not wishing to start WW3 we moved further from him and got the hook down securely.

Milos harbour is the caldera of an extinct volcano, like the more famous Santorini (Thira), and Milos is where the famous classical statue of Venus was discovered in the 19th C.

Armed with a little experience of the Meltemi, we decided to work N in easy stages before crossing back W to Hydra and the Saronic Gulf. On 9 Sept we motor sailed round the N of Milos and then ‘bashed’ N past Kimolos to the small harbour at Vathi on Sifnos, covering 28M. The name Vathi must have a special meaning in Greek as we have been in a fair number of bays / harbours with this name. The Sifnos version is a very pretty and apparently sheltered inlet but we found that there were big gusts at night which did not encourage restful sleep. To catch up on sleep and to hope for a reduction in the wind, we stayed put for the 10 Sept. Whilst there we saw flying fish which we last saw off the coast of Spain. We also helped a German crewed charter boat that had picked up the strop and weight from a disused mooring on their anchor. The lack of gear with the boat did not help and they did not have a person on board able or confident to dive down a few metres to fix a trip line to the crown of the anchor. On 11 Sept we were slogging N again, this time 19M up to the harbour at Livadi on the island of Serifos.

With the forecast promising a change from the Meltemi to south-westerlies, we left Serifos early on the 12 Sept bound for Hydra. After a morning with a useful F3/4 N, around lunch time the wind died and we motored for about 2 hours until the SW arrived. This gave us a close reach and a pleasant sail to Hydra. We arrived at the harbour at Hydra Town at 1730 on a Friday evening and found a mooring madhouse with hydrofoils, ferries, trip boats, water taxis, fishing boats, cargo caiques and yes some yachts, all in choppy water. Yachts often have to raft up 2 and 3 deep from the quays and that is bows or stern to not alongside. In the middle of all this is a cat’s cradle of anchors and chains.  We decided to pass on this doubtful pleasure and went on to the quiet bay of Ormos Molos to anchor for the night, arriving just before dark. We had covered 70M.

Needing water and provisions, the following morning we went 10M NW to the small port of Ermione which is an attractive spot on the Peloponese coast. We even found a vacant spot stern to the quay in the inner harbour. We then visited Hydra using the hydrofoil service from Ermione. Hydra has no cars and very few motor vehicles at all, with most goods and even the post being carried on the backs of donkeys and mules. There cannot be many places in Europe where ‘muleteer’ is still a common profession.

We left Ermione on 16 Sept and sailed slowly E along the Gulf of Hydra with a light SW wind. Before long however this had pretty much reversed and we had to motor the rest of the 23M to the island of Poros. This was only an overnight halt and the following day we sailed on 24M round the Methanon peninsula to the harbour at Palai Epidavros. This is the nearest harbour to the ruins of classical Epidavros with it’s impressive theatre which is still used for performances of classical Greek plays. We visited the site by taxi on the morning of 18 Sept and in the afternoon sailed 11M N to the bay of Korfos which is the nearest half-decent anchorage to the eastern entrance of the Corinth Canal.

On 19 Sept we motor sailed in light conditions the 23M to the Corinth Canal entrance, through the canal and on to Corinth Yacht Harbour. The canal, which is 6km long 23m wide and with sheer limestone walls rising 76m at the highest point, was impressive but not as dramatic as expected. What was really amazing about it was the toll of €158 for a 12m yacht. However we didn’t have to wait more than about 10 minutes for a W bound convoy.

‘Corinth Yacht Harbour’ is one of a series of marinas that have never progressed beyond the concrete pouring stage. There are similarly unfinished marinas at Corinth, Itea, Trizonia, Mesolonghi, Zakinthos and Preveza. These are rumoured to be EC funded infrastructure projects where the money from Brussels has been distributed to the local officials and the concrete pourers but where the Greek investment for services, showers etc has been absent (so far). The result is a series of harbours with piers and quays that have been left as a free for all and have been colonised by local boats, fishermen and visiting yachts. At ‘Corinth Yacht Harbour’ most of the space is now taken by fishing boats and there is little space for yachts. Trizonia, for example has become home to some live-aboards who can cope with having no services but of course with the compensation no berthing fees to pay!

At Corinth we tried to hire a car for the following day in order to visit Mycenae but there were none available. We were however lucky as during that night it came on to rain which continued for 24 hours. Squelching round the famous bronze age ruins in the rain would have been an expensive downer!

This change in the weather seemed to definitively mark the end of summer and from then on, although it stayed warm, the weather was much more unsettled with a lot of cloud and occasional rain.

We left Corinth on 21 Sept intending to go to the extreme E of the Gulf of Corinth, to Porto Germeno. However when we reached Cape Melangavi we found that Porto Germeno was directly upwind of a NE5 and a choppy head sea. Hence we went with the flow and headed 41M NW to the anchorage of Anemokambi, a place we had visited in early summer. We were then heading back towards our winter base in Preveza. The following day we sailed the 19M to the marina on the island of Trizonia, a place we had visited twice before, a quiet spot even in high season and very sleepy in late September.

On 23 Sept we sailed on 40M to the harbour at Mesolonghi. We needed some diesel and believing that the nearest filling station was somewhere on the other side of town, we asked the owner of a chandlery for directions. He then introduced us to his father who offered to take us with a jerry can to get fuel the following morning at 0900. We assumed that this would be like an unofficial taxi service. However when we got back to the quay Christos Dedes would not accept any payment and asked only for a postcard from Beverley. He had limited English but told me that his father used to run a hotel in the town. It seemed that he remembered one Philip Mountbatten staying in this hotel when his ship was in the port! Mesolonghi is where Byron died when trying to kick-start the Greek war of independence and there is still a Byron street and park, and in fact many Greek towns and cities have a Byron street. I was told that his heart was buried at Mesolonghi although the rest of him was shipped back home for burial.

From Mesolonghi on 24 Sept we sailed 44M across the Ionian Inland Sea to another of the Vathis, this one on the island of Ithaca. It was windy when we arrived and we set the anchor with care. However, the following day, while we were ashore in the town, the wind reversed and the anchor did not immediately reset and Kabardar was dragging. The crew of a Dutch yacht rowed across in their dinghy and let out some more scope which did the trick. Yachtsmen really do look out for each other!

We were then idling on our way back to Preveza where we had the lift out booked for 3 Oct. On 27 Sept we sailed 22M to Porto Leone on Kalamos and on 29 Sept we mostly motored 27M to Levkas. Still hoping for the cloudy and unsettled weather to improve we motored and sailed 19M to Vonitsa in the Amvrakikos Kolpos on 30 Sept. After a grey day there we finished with a good sail 10M back to Preveza on 2 Oct. Even at this stage the weather had it in for us as from early evening and through to the following morning we were treated to almost continuous thunderstorms, fortunately not directly overhead, and a great deal of rain.

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