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From Athens to Ionian, Fr. Mierlo

Nine weeks sailing in Greece

Arrival

We arrived at three o'clock on Wednesday morning and Sailing-in-Blue had organized transportation to the hotel. The driver was waiting for us right after customs and took us to a brand new Mercedes bus, large enough to transport fifty people. The roads were clean and modern and we swiftly drove to the center of Athens. At hundred Euros it was a bargain and I do advice those who come after me to take a taxi!

Athens

Athens was more beautiful than we expected, the Acropolis and the neighboring Plaka district are a unique sight and a good way to spend a couple of days. The National Gardens and the Royal palace provide for a very nice walk. The nearby Metro station in front of the Greek parliament was unique as it combines a subway station with a well preserved archeological dig.

Temple of Athena (Partheon) Picture from the Acropolis

Delphi

The bus station is a few blocks from the end of the subway line. After a three hour bus ride we arrived in Delphi. It was worth the effort, although it took some imagination to picture the temple of Apollo with its gold statue, from the six pillars that remained standing. The theater and the stadium are still mostly intact after 2500 years. A modern museum houses many old artifacts to tell the story.

Temple of Apollo at Delphi Stairs crossing the main road

This afternoon we will get our boat and we planned to set sail as soon as the wind allows.

Kalamaki

We arrived at the marina at 1:00 pm on Sunday July 2, 2006. Vagelis, the owner/manager of the charter company, was in the bow changing the fuse of the bow thruster. The "Siora Maria", a brand new 50.4 Cyclades model from Beneteau, was being cleaned and it looked luxurious. I installed jacklines at both port and starboard while Ruth organized provisions for the boat. At three o'clock a squall came through which completely spooked Vagelis. As the high winds (30-40 knots) ran through the Aegean, one boat after the other called in with damage. In the span of a few hours a quarter of his twenty boat fleet was damaged and/or in trouble. At this point he became so nervous that he no longer wanted to rent his new boat to us. After much discussion we agreed that we would take a skipper along on the first day so our skills could be assessed. At six o'clock our friends arrived straight from the airport. We were now complete, two couples and five kids ranging from five to thirteen. That night we stayed in Kalamaki, the music of the local restaurant blared until 4:30 am. Around 4:00 am I promised myself to never spend a night there again.

Aigina (July 3)

On Monday we sailed to Aigina with force 5/6. Three hours after leaving Kalimaki, we executed a perfect Mediterranean mooring at Aigina and we found ourselves in an idyllic harbor tied off right next to the small yacht club at the entrance. Allan, the skipper that Vagelis had insisted on, pronounced us competent and left the next day to return to Athens. That evening there was a performance of Greek kids in traditional costumes dancing right next to our boat. The music was pleasant and there was a large firework display at 10:00 pm. Then everything became quiet and we had a good night rest.

Dancing in Greek dress Anchor trip

The next two days we stayed at the island to repair the bow thruster which had blown again during our mooring. We also bought an anchor trip for the boat after we witnessed three anchors tangled up in the harbor. The Meltemi was blowing so it was a good thing to be in port and Aigina offered a large selection of historical places and temples, numerous small shops, a great chandlery and lots of fun restaurants. The chandlery is close to the port in the first street parallel to the main quay. On July the 4th a Norwegian sailboat tried to execute a Mediterranean moor next to us and ended up all over our vessel. We tried to fend off and I though we did so successfully. When we came back from lunch a German vessel had moored in between the Norwegians and us. I noticed a large scratch on our port side and asked the Germans about it. Not them they said. The Norwegian captain was kind enough to leave me his contact details and he made an entry in our logbook.

The 40 meter chain marker Red Jackline

Russian Bay near Poros (July 6)

In less than three hours we sailed down to Russian Bay close to Poros in a force 5/6 with following seas and a jib. The kids immediately went swimming after we dropped the anchor in 5.5 meters of water. We had paid out 50 meters of chain. The chain was marked with colored plastic inserts thanks to the extra days that we had in Aigina. I just love spending time in a good chandlery. Despite some strong gusts the anchor held well and we had a good night sleep in this sheltered bay.

Reef in front of Russian Bay

5

Poros to Korfos (July 7)

We sailed from Poros to Korfos in five hours. The wind came from the north and allowed us to sail on a beam between the islands. As we turned towards the wind and trimmed for a close haul, it became clear that the Cyclades line is more built for comfort than performance. Korfos is a lovely bay surrounded at all sides by land. We moored at the local tavern and learned a few lessons. For one, we could not rely on the local mooring lines. The boat moved twenty minutes after we tied off, with help from some other skippers we reset the mooring line and added a second mooring line. Half an hour later a wind gust pushed the boat over again moving both "fixed" moorings. This prompted us to cast off and deploy out our own anchor, with some 80 meters of chain, which guaranteed us a peaceful night sleep. Dinner at the tavern was delicious; it was also expensive. In Greece you should ask what things cost before ordering and fresh fish is only for those with a large budget.

Korfos to Corinth (July 8)

We woke up at 6:45 am, hauled up the chain and before 7:30 am we were on the motor. We had decided to pass through the Corinth canal in search of calmer weather. The Aegean was deemed too rough to start our trip as we were still getting used to the boat. On the way we saw several schools of dolphins. Five large dolphins rode our bow wave for a short time, much to the delight of all on board.

Entrance to Poros

6

Dolphins playing in our bow wave Corinth canal

We arrived at the entrance of the canal at 9:30. Check-in procedures at the canal were efficient and after paying 166 Euro, we were cleared to pass the whole procedure took less than an hour. The canal was awesome, the fact that the ancient Greeks and Romans attempted to complete this marvel of civil engineering does once more underline the might of their civilization. At the end of the canal we turned to port and after a little more than one nautical mile we tied off on port side just inside the Corinth yacht harbor at 11:30 am. Vincent was at the helm during the entire maneuver and he proved himself to be competent. The plan was to visit the old city of Corinth that was one the richest and most hedonistic cities in the old Greek civilization. The next morning we took the bus up to ancient Corinth, like Athens it was spectacular but this time we had the place almost to ourselves, as there were but a handful of tourist.

7

Ancient Corinth with the acropolis in the background

Corinth to the bay of Isidhorou (July 9)

After a four and a half hour journey, during which we saw another school of dolphins, we anchored in the Bay of Isidhorou close to Andikiron. It is a beautiful large bay and there was only one other yacht. Swimming was great and the hike on the olive tree studded hills was pleasant as well. Tom found some wild garlic on the small island in the bay and brought a dozen bulbs back to the boat. I swam the anchor line which was lying straight across the seafloor; Martin must have executed a textbook maneuver! During the night the anchor alarm tripped as the wind died down completely. I increased the radius on the GPS alarm to 30 meters and moved the depth alarm from four to five meters. We slept soundly the rest of the night.

8

The bay of Isidhourou with the Siora Maria

Isidhorou to Andikiron (July 10)

We started the day with a leisurely breakfast and some swimming. Just before noon we hauled up the anchor and motored around the corner to Andikiron. Andikiron is a modern little village with a pleasant water front. There are plenty of shops and for three Euro we had water and electricity. We took the bus for a seven mile ride up the mountains to Distomou, there we continued by taxi another eight miles into the mountains to the 1000 year old monastery of St. Luke. The monastery was a beautiful example of Byzantine architecture with spectacular views across the valley. We were happy that we had taken the effort to travel to this remote place.

9

Pier at Andikiron Bay of Andikiron

Andikiron to Mesolongion (July 11)

At quarter to eight we steamed out of the harbor with plenty of provisions and all three tanks full of water. There was a strong NNE wind blowing with gusts of 30 knots. We made ten knots on a broad reach with only one reefed mainsail. The boat handled well and we enjoyed the freshly baked pastries that we had bought in the morning. Bakeries open at six o'clock in Greece, so fresh bread is possible even for early sailors. At eleven o'clock the wind died down and we continued West on the motor. The wind continued to be variable; a few hours later it was coming from the SSE and was blowing 25 knots again. At which point we continued on both sails. At the recently completed Rion Bridge, we were requested to pass on the motor. It is an impressive modern structure spanning more than a mile in five spans. Our 13.5 meter mast passed through the middle of the bridge with plenty of clearance. Mesolongion is land inwards and is reached through a canal. The actual harbor is deep and well protected. There is a commercial shipping quay to the north side and a partially finished marina to the West. We moored off on our port side at the east side of the bay. There was water in the quay so we filled our three tanks which could hold a 1000 liters. The actual town was a fifteen minute walk away and turned out to be very charming. When we came back to the boat there were lots of teenagers hanging out enjoying the evening. In search of a quiet night we decided to anchor in the bay under a full moon and a starry sky.

10

Chain on the sprocket of the steering wheel, when the

termination is pulled onto the sprocket, the chain links breaks

At 7:45 am I woke up to the sound of loud deep horn blasting away. A big blue freighter was bearing down on us. We rapidly retrieved our anchor and backed away to give him more room. While reversing our steering broke. We must have set a record while we installed the emergency tiller. Using the emergency tiller we moored off at the marina. Tom and I fixed the steering later that day. The joy of sailing a brand new boat is finding all the design bugs. In this case the usual new-cable-stretch had caused the chain to reach the end. The sprocket of the steering wheel broke the last link as the chain termination ran into it. Tom and I searched all over town to find a replacement part. Luckily a local hardware store had a new chain link for us. We tightened the cables a bit and increased the size of the port stop to make sure this would not happen again. At 2:15 pm we left on the motor for East Bay.

11

Mesolongion to Sarakiniko - Ittica (July 12)

We arrived at East bay at 5:00 pm, it was a rugged isolated place, beautiful just like the pilot predicted. It did however contain a fish farm that left little place to anchor. We decided to continue to Ittica and at half past seven we arrived in the bay of Sarakiniko. This was a beautiful idyllic bay, we anchored and we all went swimming. The kids enjoyed the swimming, the beach and collecting sea glass. The water was clear and full of fish and the town of Vathi was a one hour walk away. A lovely hike through olive covered hills that smelled of wild jasmine, sage, and thyme. Ittica was the home of Odysseus. This place was so nice that we decided to stay for two days. Shortly after sunset the Italian boat that was anchored in front of us broke loose from its anchor. That was ironic since its captain had been somewhat vocal during our anchoring maneuver. The wind pushed them out of the bay; they started their engine and sailed away.

The bay of Sarakiniko, we are anchored in the middle with a line to shore.

After the first night, we attached two lines to shore and secured the boat in a giant Mediterranean moor spanning around 150 meters from shore to anchor. While we reset the anchor, the windlass broke. That same day it was repaired by a local electrician. He said that the relay was undersized and this was a well known problem with all French boats. (For the record the windlass was Italian.)

Bay of Sarakiniko from shore Diving from the stern.

With seventy feet of anchor chain and two shorelines, the boat was well secured and it allowed us to go hiking up the hills. We made several trips to Vathi on the other side of Ittica. One night we came back late and walked under the most beautiful starry sky that I have ever seen.

Sarakiniko (Ittica) to Sami - July 15

We left on Saturday morning at 9:00 am. We swung by the bay of Ay Andreas at the south end on Ittica; It was nice and definitely worth a stay. At 11:00 am we approached Sami. It was a lovely port with string on taverns lining the South East Quay. That afternoon we took a taxi to the underground caves. The water was cool (14°C) and a tour through the large cave was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon. We walked back along the shore and the kids cooked us a solid meal of sausage, rice, and salad that night.

13

Precious cargo in the bay of Andisamos

The next morning we motored to the bay of Andisamos and we stayed there until four o'clock swimming, enjoying the beach and a nice lunch. We sailed back in a fresh breeze and practiced a man-over-board maneuver under sail before entering the harbor at Sami. A strong crosswind necessitated three attempts before we executed the perfect Mediterranean moor. Martin did a great job with the anchor and Vincent manned the stern line and the gang plank. Our boys are becoming quite the sailors and I think we are ready to sail this yacht by ourselves. Tonight is our last night with the Curtin family. Tomorrow they are leaving on a ferry at 8:30 am. It was great to have them aboard, we enjoyed their company and it was good to have extra hands to man the boat as we were learning the ropes in a new country with new equipment.

14

Sami to Ay Eufima (July 17)

We left at noon for the first time with just the four of us. In a gentle breeze, we tacked up to Eufima and anchored in the harbor. There was more wind in the harbor than at sea as the valley was channeling the wind. We all had a siesta and in the evening took the dinghy ashore.

Rocky seashore and stone stairs in Eufima

The harbor had a beautiful boulevard making for a nice walk along the sea shore with several stone stairs down to the ocean. There were gigantic plants that resembled Aloe Vera growing along the shore with eight foot tall flowers. At the end of the road there was a popular restaurant. We ate at the restaurant "Amalia" just around the corner from the harbor. It was excellent value for money. The cook was a Filipina married to a Greek. She told us that life can be hard in this tourist Based economy as it is difficult to make a living during the winter.

15

Five boats at anchor rafted together Giant Aloe Vera Flower

In the evening five Dutch sailboats arrived. They anchored in the harbor and then proceeded to raft together and stayed that way the entire night. If you like crowds, as most people do; it looked like fun. With five boats they made their own mini city on the water.

Ay Eufima to Vasiliki (July 18)

We left at 8:00 am and we were the first boat to sail out of the harbor. We swung by Fiskardho and decided that it would be a good location to visit on the way back.

Fiskardho

16

At 12:30 pm we arrived at our destination. The harbor of Vasiliki had seen some construction since the pilot was written. The ferry now ties of at the SE Quay. This gave us the opportunity to do two perfect Mediterranean moors in one harbor. Vasiliki was very touristy in the best sense of the word. It is a great place to relax and enjoy the restaurants. Other than that, there is very little infrastructure. All the tavernas were full and there was a large beach popular with the windsurfers in the bay just to the west of the harbor. Since we arrived early, we had our pick and we tied off at the corner next to the fountain. At 4:00 pm Akis, the technician of Raytheon arrived to fix the electronics. He showed me the location of the main computer, wired the instruments into the instrument panel, changed a fuse and tightened some connections. Since the electronics were still under warranty there was no charge.

Making a sounding line at Vasiliki Spectacular blue water at Egrimni

Vasiliki to Sivota (July 19)

At 11:00 we departed and motored to Egremni, the spectacular beach at the SW side of Lefkas. The weather was calm and we anchored in 9 meters of water. The white limestone beach gave the water a milky white coloring creating a light blue ocean that was very appealing. Ruth and the boys rowed ashore. After I cleaned the boat and assured myself that the anchor was going to hold, I swam after them. The beach was made of tiny white round pebbles; we took a handful with us to take back to Boston. Ruth also selected a fist size smooth stone to sharpen our knives. It worked amazingly well, better than anything I ever bought at Home Depot. At 3:00 pm we left and raised sail, after rounding Ak Dhoukato for the second time we continued on to Sivota. Sivota is another popular and busy tourist destination. There must have been some fifteen yachts anchored in this beautiful well protected bay. The scene was a lot like Vasiliki. We mounted the outboard to the dinghy and after a brief instructions Vincent and Martin were, much to their delight, operating their own vessel. Despite the busy anchorage all boats swung unimpeded around their moorings and we slept well that night as there was little to no wind.

Sivota

Sivota to Spartakhori

Under full sail we approached the caves that were at sea level at the southern base of the Kastro mountain. It was quite the sight. We continued on to Spartakhori where we arrived at a quarter past three. The local tavern offered us mooring lines and a place at the end of their pontoon complete with water and electricity. That is to say until we turned on our four AC units, that blew the main circuit breaker and the owner of the Tavern responded by turning of the water as well. Later that day we hiked up to the village on top of the hill, with its small winding streets, is was very picturesque.

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Sons at Sivota Caves at the base of Kastro.

The Garmin GPS maps are very coarse in this part of Greece. Both the 292 GPS of the boat and my handheld 76CS showed us 60 meters on land in Spartakhori. We had been noticing these errors for the last few days. Luckily the Imra charts and the Heikel pilot are more accurate.

Spartakhori

__________________________________________________________

We have settled on Windfinder.com as the provider of our weather forecasts.

Overview pictures can be found on: http://www.windfinder.com/forecasts/wind_greece36.htm Detailed one week forecasts are available for different locations such as: http://www.windfinder.com/forecast/zakinthos

____________________________________________________________

Sailing is fun Spartakhori to Preveza (July 21)

This morning we set a record for sleepiness and got up after 9:00 am. After breakfast we sat down with the charts and discussed our options. We contemplated going south around the Peloponnesian peninsula, the long stretch between Ak Maleas and Milo had us worried and the notorious gusts of wind at the same cape where Odysseus shipwrecked did not argue for this route either. We could go up to Corfu or turn around and head back to the Aegean through the Corinthian canal. After slowly drinking our Greek frappe (a foamed ice coffee) we decided that we would head North for another day. Lefkas looked too industrial so we headed for Preveza. At the North side of the Levkas canal we encountered a large sandbar filled with people sunning and swimming. The sandbar was not on the chart and our planned GPS route was right over it. I shudder to think what would have happened if we would have tried to approach this entrance at night. When we reached open waters we raised our sails and had a very pleasant cruise while approaching the entrance to Preveza. This was where Octavius defeated Antony and Cleopetra in a crucial sea battle that shaped the fate of the western world. The latter committed suicide and Octavius became Caesar Augustus.

Bridge at the North end Lighthouse at the North entrance

of the Lefkas Canal

Preveza turned out to be a large town, the shipyard at the other side was a forest of masts and the long town quay had plenty of space. We tied off in a Mediterranean moor. By now we were sufficiently greased in the Greek ways that we preferred this mooring to the more traditional tying of at one side. Staying free from the quay makes for a quieter night and it stops any vermin from coming on board. The town had lots of alleys and shops. I went shopping for a long 17 mm socket. A friendly young Greek drove me around on the back of his motorcycle after I had asked him for directions. Despite this help we did not find the socket. The next day I borrowed a pipe key from the Dutch boat down the quay. I had not seen that type of tool since I left Holland but it sure was the ideal solution for our job. I promised myself a set for my next birthday. With the help of Vincent, I tightened the steering cables and then we had breakfast. We took the opportunity to provision the boat, filled up our water tanks, took on board 267 liters of diesel and enough food to last several days. After a short siesta we were ready to go at 3:00 pm.

Quay at Preveza

Preveza to Parga (July 22)

An hour before we left, a yellow sailboat filled with Brits moored next to us with a large S curve. Much to the enthusiasm of our boys, we caught their anchor when we tried to leave. First we had to turn our boat around so that we were no longer in between the British anchor and the British ship. Once that was done, we deployed the anchor trip that we had bought in Aigina. It worked like a charm. We hauled up both anchors, caught the British anchor with our anchor trip and tied that off to a cleat. We then lowered and freed our anchor. With the British anchor hooked, we maneuvered the boat

Waves on the way to Parga

to the place we wanted to drop the anchor. Ruth did a good job lining their anchor up with their boat and free of all the other anchor chains, at the right place we pulled the trip-line and the large Bruce anchor sunk back to the seafloor. The whole maneuver was a pleasure to execute.

Vincent and Martin are unperturbed by the large waves

That afternoon we encountered a fresh breeze and waves of more than meter high. Beating against the wind, we arrived at Parga just before dark. Parga is a beautiful place. The first night we stayed at anchor beneath the old Venetian fort. The town is a very popular labyrinth of streets lined with small shops catering mostly to tourist. There is a large beach and plenty of water sport activity.

The Venetian fort overlooks a beautiful beach at Parga

Ruth prepared a wonderful beef stew and used most of the bottle of wine that Tom had left behind. We stayed an extra day, enjoyed the bustle and were equally glad to leave it all behind.

Parga to Meganisi (July 24)

With no wind we motored back south and after passing through the Levkas canal we anchored in one of the beautiful coves of the island of Meganisi. Like all of the Ionian this place was busy. There were lots of other boats and all the coves were full at the end of the day.

Towing each other Eating Breakfast

We swam and generally had a good time. The boys rigged up two fenders behind the dinghy and towed each other around with the outboard.

Vincent demonstrating the front flip

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Meganisi to Ithaca (Andreas Cove) July 25

After a wonderful morning swim we set course for the southern tip of Ithaca. That night we were anchored right in front of the beach with 80 meters of anchor chain and three lines to shore.

Vincent bringing the lines ashore in Andreas cove

While coming into the cove we saw a large jelly fish so we were all extra careful when we went swimming. The boys and I decided to do our good deed for the year and we cleaned up the beach. We took on board five large bags filled with trash, mostly plastic bottles. When we were done, the beach was all clean as it should be. It was a beautiful calm night and we slept on deck that evening. Martin and I were both awake around 2 am and it was a pleasure to hear him; "Papa look, look at the stars!"