38D 47M North, 08D 26M East What are we doing here? Well, I'm on watch, and George is sleeping. Promise is sitting on a flat calm sea, the engine grumbling and chuckling us along at 4.3 knots. And where is here? It's 180 miles (2 1/2 days) out of Spain, slipping unnoticed by the Southern coast of Sardinia still 700 miles (about 8 days and nights) from our destination of Pylos, Greece. If, however, this weather holds, and we get no wind, we'll need to stop in Messina or Reggio di Calabria (Italy, Strait of Messina) to take on fuel and try out our buon giorno's and our per favore's, not to mention our ciao's and pizza's! I'm presently listening to a really good Italian radio station, a welcome change from our usual diet of Spanish stations and BBC.
Since I have nothing to report yet about our present cruise or its destination, I might as well tell you about the end of our stay in the Spanish Balearic Islands. The islands were fun, rather touristy, and provided a few memories for our book. Our arrival in Palma harbor was nothing less than spectacular. The cruising guide shows a nice anchorage in the harbor near the city wall, and nicely out of the way. We anchored, and it was lovely. For three days. The fourth day the Spanish Navy!! came out to chase us into the marina yelling in incomprehensible Spanish and making jabbing motions at us with their large, ugly metal boat hooks. We got the message, put our half eaten dinner in the sink, weighed anchor, and headed for the marina with the Navy glowering from their boat positioned a few meters behind us. There were more stern-faced officials awaiting us on the wall.
While I drove the boat toward the wall, the Captain dropped the stern anchor as usual. When we got close to the wall I rushed forward to toss some lines as usual. But the boat stopped about a meter too far from the wall for me to reach it. I turned around to ask the Captain to let out that much line on the stern anchor, and much to my amazement, there he was perched on the stern about to take an impromptu dive into the not-so-clean harbor waters of Palma.
Which he did with great dispatch and his best pair of slacks. Not being able to understand his sudden compulsion for a swim, I turned back to the officials on the dock who were staring open- mouthed at the Captain swimming in their harbor. About now Promise was caught by the wind and started moving forward again toward the ugly concrete wall. Remembering only two words of Spanish under the circumstances, I used them. "Por favor," I said, making pushing motions and pointing at our bow. The officials complied in a spirit of either helpfulness or self preservation, pushed at the bow coming at them rapidly, and held us off the wall while I ran back to the stern. There was the Captain treading water holding the bitter end of our anchor line. "Throw me another line," he sputtered as he was pulled under by the weight of it and lost it. In the meantime, the officials were still holding Promise off the dock and looking more confused by the moment.
All ended well as the dripping captain quickly rowed out another anchor, and we were soon docked with customs and immigration papers in hand to fill out. (Having, of course, bowed and waved to the large crowd which had gathered to watch the Americans dock.)
We felt really stupid about dropping our anchor too far out and losing the end of the line overboard until we watched the next two boats chased by the Navy do exactly the same thing. (It must have something to do with having the Spanish Navy breathing down your neck.) We all had a dive-for-the-lost-anchors party the next morning.
Also during our stay in Palma we had some of that famous "rain in Spain"....just what we needed to rinse the salt off the boat. (Water in Palma is $7 US for about 2 hours permission to hook up a garden size hose. We didn't do it too often.) But what nobody ever tells you about the famous Spanish rain is that it's red! After the rain the deck, sails, lines, canvas, everything was covered with red, sandy mud. It's disgusting but actually quite exotic, as it's African Sahara desert dust stirred up by sand storms there and carried up to Europe in the clouds. We've gotten to be old hands at washing the desert off the decks.
So, with Spain definitely behind us we can say it was fun, but we're ready for a new country and are headed that way at 4.3 knots. Here comes George. I'm off watch and bound for my bunk. See you later, or since we're just off the coast of Italy, should I say Ciao?
July 12, 1930 UTC 38D 45M North, 15D 15M East What are we doing here? Well, the engine ground wire vibrated off somehow (and it's a huge, thick thing!). And while the Captain attempts to get it back on, we're slowly drifting with almost no wind (again) toward Stromboli. And what is Stromboli? It's a still active volcano (you can see the lava and steam) that sticks up out of the ocean off the West coast of Italy. It would be very interesting if we were motoring or sailing leisurely by, but we're not. So we're both on watch. Like I said, what are we doing here?
A half hour later and all is well. The Captain reattached the ground wire, and we're under way for the Strait of Messina. Should be there in the morning.
We are now, also, following in the wake of Ulysses who mentions Stromboli with references to "tempestuous and destroying flames." Fun. Whose watch is it?
July 13, 0630 UTC 38D 16M North, 15D 39M East What are we doing here? Well, according to Homer, we're still following the wake of Ulysses through the Strait of Messina to do battle with a 4 knot current and the whirlpools of Scylla and Charybdis which Ulysses called "the Render and the Sucker-down". (Sounds like almost as much fun as docking in Palma.) Scylla and Charybdis are actually on the charts with warnings that although an earthquake in 1783 changed the local topography and made the whirlpools less dangerous, as late as 1824 a British Admiral reported that he saw several men-of-war and a seventy-four gun ship whirled around on the surface of Charybdis.
In the odyssey of Promise 1988, the Captain planned our approach to the Strait at slack water, and we saw only a slick on the water for Charybdis and nothing for Scylla. Oh, darn.
Who's on watch? Nobody, because we're stopping for fuel and a pizza at Reggio di Calabria, Italy in the Strait of Messina before we go on to Greece. Ciao!
Oh, wait. You won't believe what just passed us on our way into the marina at Reggio. A swordfishing boat. These boats are about 35 feet long with a 30 foot mast and a 50 foot bowsprit! A man stands on the mast looking for swordfish sleeping on the surface. When he spots one the boat inches its 50 foot bowsprit up behind the fish till the end of the bowsprit is just over it. The poor fish is speared and aboard before he even wakes up. (Seems a strange way of fishing to us, but then with our fishing record, what do we know?)
July 19 2000 UTC to 0200 UTC 36D 59.5M North, 20D 55.9M East to 20D 58.3M East WHAT ARE WE DOING HERE??? We're hove-to in Force 6 gusting to 8. Having had very light wind sailing from Italy to here, 39 miles off the Greek coast, we timed our approach for a slow drift to arrive off Pylos at first light. But if we sailed with this wind we'd get there by 2 in the morning, and there's no moon tonight. And there are the very large, sloppy, square seas generated by the Med in this kind of wind. Also, our chart of Pylos is based on a British Admiralty survey of 1867. So, we're hove-to, and it's my watch. (This is still fun, don't get me wrong. I'd rate it about halfway between docking in Palma and running up onto the shores of a still active volcano.)
Pylos actually turned out to be great fun. We anchored in Navarion Bay where the Athenian Navy beat the Spartans in 425 BC, where Hermes hid in a cave the cattle he stole from Apollo, and where Telemachus went seeking news of his overdue dad.
July 29, 1200 UTC 38D 31M North, 22D 59M East Where that is, and what we are doing: Elaphonisos Island, Greece at the Southeastern tip of mainland Greece, and we are enjoying! Elaphonisos is about 4 miles x 4 miles, with one tiny town at the North end, and a beautiful sandy bay at the South end where we are anchored. The only sign of civilization among the sand dunes here is a tiny grass and bamboo beach hut "taverna" (10' x 15' with empty cartons for tables and seats) run by two fishermen who sell great Greek salads, fresh fish and octopus, cold beers and ouzo. We've been here for 4 days, and will remain until the Meltemi quits. The last few days we've had Force 6 to 8 from the NNE. Where we want to go is Athens, which is about 100 miles to the NNE (by now you know our luck and could have guessed that, huh?). Off the beaten path for cruisers (nobody comes down here because with the Meltemi it's too hard to get back North again), our only company tucked up against this perfect beach just off the "taverna" are a few luxury Greek charter motor yachts 100 to 200 feet long peopled with beautiful, naked swimmers and beachcombers. Not many, just enough to provide a little atmosphere. There are also a few tent campers which is the reason for the taverna. Last night we went ashore for dinner, and the taverna owners/fishermen had nothing but salad for us as the seas had been too rough for fishing. Not wanting to disappoint us with no food, they told some of the tenters all about our sailing "that tiny boat" all the way from America, and the tenters immediately insisted that we share their steak B-B-Q! None of the tenters spoke any English, so as they fed us steaks and drinks, there was much smiling, hand shaking and nodding. All they wanted in return for all this hospitality was to have their picture taken with George. (Can you imagine!)
If we're stuck here much longer, we'll need some fresh provisions. But that won't be a problem, as we can have the taverna owners bring us some supplies by burro next time they ride into the little town up North. (We always know they've been to town when we hear the burro complaining on his way back.)
July 31, 0215 UTC Position same as above On to Athens! All we have to do is round Cape Malea and head North up the coast. Of course, rounding cape Malea has historically been a bit difficult. Ulysses reports as he tried to get around the cape:
"...Zeus now sent my fleet a terrible gale from the north. Our ships were driven sidelong by the wind, and the force of the gusts tore their sails to rags and tatters. With the fear of death upon us we rowed landward with all our might. Thus we lay for two days and two nights on end, with exhaustion and anxiety gnawing at our hearts. But on the third morning, we hauled up the sails and I should have reached my own land safe and sound, had not the swell, the current, and the North wind combined, as I was doubling Malea, to drive me off my course. For nine days (!) I was chased by the accursed winds (!) across fish-infested seas (!). But on the tenth we made the country of the Lotus-eaters (!)."
Nine days in accursed winds across fish-infested seas to the land of the Lotus-eaters. And Zeus no less. Well, fish-infested seas would be a welcome change anyway. As it turned out, we made the trip at night, had only a moderate headwind and were able to motor into it. (Remind me of that next time I complain about the Volvo.)
August 3, 0650 UTC 37D 30M North, 23D 27M East We're now in the harbor of Poros, 22 miles SSW of Piraeus having battled our way here against the Meltemi which is still blowing. It gets a bit lighter at night, so we've had to do all our moving then with stops at Monemvasia and Ierka. In spite of the Meltemi, we can say without any reservations that Greece is making all that we went through to get here worthwhile.
The people are so friendly and treat us like honored guests! While walking down the beach one evening we were invited by a group of young Greeks to join their campfire singalong. Of course, all the songs were Greek to us. (Sorry, I just had to say that and get it over with. I feel much better now.) The anchorages are fantastic. Often we're moored next to a 100 or 200 foot yacht anchored in clear warm water off some beautiful sand dune beach surrounded by layers and layers of rugged mountain peaks. Or almost better yet, up against a quaint town wall just steps away from the waterfront taverna. We've never been chased off or asked to pay a dime, even though we've had to get quite creative with our mooring lines in some of the tiny fishing harbors.
Also a very pleasant surprise for us has been how reasonable prices are here. We had been told that Greece would be expensive, but it's actually a bit cheaper than Spain. Even the fantastic food is affordable. (Speaking of food, I like to brag to George that my Greek vocabulary is expanding rapidly. He likes to point out that most of my new words are foods. Favorites are moussaka, souvlaki, and dzadziki.) Just as wonderful as the food is the music, especially Bouzouki and Syrtaki, all very happy and makes you want to dance.
August 6, 1246 UTC 37D 56.5M North, 23D 39M East, Piraeus Our trip here this morning from Poros was uneventful. There is finally a break in the Meltemi which means no wind at all. We had a pleasant motor here on a rather crowded sea - fishing boats, ferries, weekend sailors, waterskiers, and a hydrofoil every fifteen minutes as we got closer to the port. We're looking forward to Athens for a couple weeks even though much of our time here will be spent working to get the boat ready to go out-island for a couple more months and then on to Turkey.