Tony Olin concludes his 2016 cruising logs from Messalongi
We returned to the north Evia channel from the Sporades islands at the end of August, having arrived at the port of Oreoi after a rough passage from the island of Alonossis. We met up with our Turkish friend and single-hander Memdhu who was also taking shelter from the bad Meltimi that was blowing fitfully in the Aegean.
Over lunch one day he captured our complete attention telling us the story of retrieving two young migrant men from the sea off the coast of Turkey early one morning this year. He had set out for his usual summer cruise of the Aegean in his Jeanneau 42, Papalina, in the company of his wife Sibel and their son Mert, the wind was at twenty knots and the sea was running at over a meter when Sibel heard a faint cry for help, not immediately seeing anyone she kept an eye out just in case, she then saw two guys treading water in the choppy sea, neither had a lifejacket, and both were looking in poor condition.
Memdhu being an experienced skipper of many years ordered Sibel to focus on the two guys and do nothing else whilst he and Mert set about furling their sails and piloting Papalina back to the casualties with great haste.
He told of the enormous effort it took to get the two lads on board, using two life rings that he deployed in the first instance to keep them afloat as he readied a previously unused retrieval harness to his spinnaker halyard as Sibel winched them each on board whilst Mert piloted the boat to keep her in position. Even with this great teamwork that was never practiced on his boat before, he told of being exhausted by the effort and injuring his shoulder in the process. They had only taken the guys from the water when they came across a young women in her twenties floating face down in her life jacket, they came alongside and Memdhu rolled her over with his boat hook only to see that she was dead with her eyes wide open. The sea being what it was and the effort to take the two guys from the water he made the decision to leave her for the Coastguard to retrieve her body later.
With the guys now on board they immediately set about getting some fluids into them, some of Memdhu's dry clothes and then some food saw the young men come around quite quickly. One an Afghani was happy to be saved, the other a Syrian was sad as he had set off with his grandad and witnessed the poor man drown as the rough old fishing boat that they each paid $2000 to smugglers for the passage went down completely over loaded and not at all seaworthy.
They told of having left Turkey in the dark of night for the thirty mile passage to Greece with an experienced skipper to take them all the way, but when they reached the boundary of Turkish territorial waters a fast rib came out and the skipper jumped ship and left them to their own devises as the rib returned to shore.
It was not long after with everyone in a state of panic they noticed the vessel was taking on water, with nothing to bale her out with, the engine cut out as the water rose in the bilge, with no motive power, no sea anchor, she started to roll heavily until a big wave eventually capsized her leaving over two hundred people, men, women and children in the dark waters of the Aegean to fend for themselves.
Memdhu, decent man that he is, knew he should have called this in to the Turkish coast guard, but instead he took a course for the Greek island of Kalymnos and when in Greek waters called it in to the Greek Coastgaurd, they were so busy dealing with the other casualties of the night, they asked him to just proceed to port. On there arrival at Kalymnos they were boarded by Greek port police who took the two guys into their care, he said it was all very hospitable and they were all treated very well by the police, before the guys left he parted with €200 each to help them on their way, the money hardly saw the light of day with the Afghani as he slipped it into his pocket and said thanks, the Syrian refused and had to be forced to take it, Memdhu and his family have never heard how they got on since.
Our time in Oreoi was up and we set off in fine weather and flat calm seas for the port of Chalkis. On arrival at the Chalkis Bridge we tied up on the town Quay (top photo) that is in the dead centre of things here to await the bridge opening, which can be anytime between 22.00 and 04.00, one is well entertained watching all the revelers walking up and down the quay as they come and go out of the pubs and tavernas. We were drifting in and out of sleep when they opened the bridge at 04.00, then it's all hands to the pump as everyone gets underway to motor trough the fierce current that flows under the bridge. We then slipped into the little Marina on the other side, tied up and into the scratcher in jig time for some proper sleep.
Chalkis is the old capital of Evia island, it's a pleasant town to stay, very Greek and friendly place to visit, I was in the wind telecom shop one morning for to top up our SIM cards for the Internet, as is usual, there was a queue waiting to be dealt with by the two guys on the counter, things were moving slowly and I was glad the shop was air conditioned, the body language was great as the Greeks were expressing their discontent to one and other at having to stand waiting, they would look at you and raise both eyes and shoulders and mumble something to each other in Greek. In walks this little old lady all dressed in traditional black clothes, she walks past everybody straight to the top of the queue greeting everyone with a ‘Kalimera’ (good morning) and a smile, she is almost immediately served without any protest from anyone, after about fifteen minutes having topped up her credit by a fiver, she heads over to the other shop assistant to engage him in a long conversation, the auld guy in front turns to me and tells me with a sigh, she's enquiring about his grandfather, he has not been too well, she eventually leaves wishing everyone ‘yassas’ (good day) as she heads off about her business. It was reminiscent of how things might be in a post office in rural Ireland.
We were planning to visit our sons, their ladies and the grandkids in Mallorca to celebrate what was to be my 57th birthday and we needed somewhere to leave DeDanann were she would be safe, I had a price of €1400 for eighteen days from the people at Olympic Marina not too far from here, the little Marina here is just as good but it is owned by the port authority and only used in the summer for short stays for yachts in transit through the bridge, I thought, when coming through here last June on our way to the Sporades, I dropped the captain in charge of the Marina a couple of our little devils of Teelings Irish Whiskey, now I remembered that he was most grateful and him telling me that Jameson was his favourite whiskey, I slipped around to see him again armed with a big bottle of Jameson, he was overcome with my generosity, it was then I slipped the question about needing somewhere safe to leave DeDanann for a couple of weeks, "No Problem!" came the reply, we'll look after her for you as he wrote the receipt for €154.
Our visit to Mallorca was both joyful and sad, it was great to have the grandkids for the couple of weeks taking them to the big pirates show that runs here all summer, it's a great show if in Mallorca where the kids all get dressed as pirates and have a ball, I had a good aul knees up in the Club Nautico for my birthday where I am well known and the gang enjoyed that, but the sad part was my friend of many years Vladimir, was on his last days on this earth suffering hard with a prostate cancer that got out of control, a great long distance ocean sailor who lived on his Colin Archer wooden ketch for years as he tramped around the world mostly singlehanded having retired young as a space scientist with NASA, a most interesting man who was born and raised in Siberia before defecting to the USA. Vlad was a great help and good company when I was refurbishing DeDanann in port Andraix a few years ago, he would regale me over beer and vodka the wonderful stories of his adventures living on the sea, we had discussed many of the ports that I have since sailed into.
Before my return I went to see Vladimir at his home, I was shocked to see how sick he looked since our last night out in January, he was not eating, losing his sight and hearing, heavy on morphine to ease the pain, but his mind was ok, our talk was frank, I asked him which period of his life did he enjoy the most, without hesitation, at sea was his reply. He cut our meeting short saying in his heavily accented English " Tony my friend, it vas good to know you, but I am tired! and I have to go now" I received a message from his wife Louise, the day after our return to DeDanann that read "Vlad has just set off on his last voyage".
I keep a Greek wooden cross and beads over my chart table that he gave me when we set out on this voyage as a good luck charm, he'd kept it over his chart table for all the years that he was at sea. I recall his advise to me the day before we set off on our Mediterranean voyage three years ago, "If it gets rough out there in the open sea and you feel you can no longer carry on, always put the vind at your back and DeDanann will look after you!"
We left Chalkis heading south through the north Evia channel stopping off at the little port and village of Almirapotomas on Evia island. We had the worst meal ever in Greece here in the local tavern. Madre Di Dio, it was only cruel, even Alfie looked at me suspiciously when I slipped him some food of my plate, we could hear him thinking, f!!! me, this is ridiculous. The problem over here is the Greeks are so nice and the food is so cheap you can't give out. In fact, it was so bad that I took some cards from this fine establishment to recommend to any A-Wholes I meet along the way. We headed off next morning on the fringe of the Meltimi wind for a nice sail in twenty knots from our port quarter for the seventy odd miles to the port and island of Aegena, it was late when we arrived and we squeezed into a nice spot opposite the town quay in front of the sailing club, some supper on board and hit the sack for some well earned sleep after what was a cracking good sail port to port across the main shipping Channel into Athens.
The following morning being a Saturday, the sailing club was being prepared for a wedding party of six hundred people, fifty five tables of ten and a top table for about thirty, there must have been fifty people beavering away all day preparing for this great outdoor event, the dinghy slip was scaffolded out for a big stage, a barge was set up in the middle of the port for a great fireworks display, this was going to be some wedding. A band of six musicians arrived in from Athens, bouzoukis, fiddle, mandolins and guitars strobe lighting the works, there was about twenty chefs cooking in a huge mobile kitchen, trucks of food and booze coming and going all day long, the excitement of just watching all this was wonderful, Linda said were staying on board tonight to enjoy this great wedding, the photographers were already eyeing Alfie up and doing an impromptu photo shoot of him for later on as he lay across the pasarelle looking in amazement at all the activity.
Eight o'clock came and the guests were arriving coach after coach dressed in their finery, the champagne was being decanted, the candles lit, the chefs are running about preparing the huge open air buffet, the band strike up and then the hooting of car horns took precedence over the noise of the port traffic, the young bride and groom arrive by horse and carriage to great cheering, as is the tradition here, they are invited up to give the first dance to some Greek song that everyone is singing, then the fantastic fireworks display gets under way lighting up the port of Aegena as the champagne flows from glass to glass, the boats in port are all hooting their horns, Suddenly, rain starts to come from nowhere, torrential rain with thunder and lightning lights up the sky over Aegena were only minutes earlier was alive with pyrotechnics, the guests are getting drenched, Linda and I retreat down the main hatch, the guests had nowhere to take shelter from the rain that is now bucketing down from the sky above.
To cut a long story short, the wedding party was absolutely ruined, I recall thinking the gods have been rather cruel tonight, I said to Linda, who was looking out at the carnage somewhat shocked, these Greeks are more like the Irish than any other nation that I have come across, the nights not over, until it's over, well, the bride and groom and as many family and friends that they could possibly fit into the little dinghy club (which is smaller than Sutton Dinghy Club) got together inside, the band struck up acoustically, the chefs dished up the grub and they had a bloody good Hooley to match any good Irish wedding that I've attended. I went to bed thinking, I wouldn't like to be picking up the bill for this!
We left Aegina and sailed over to the pretty island of Poros for to meet up with fellow HYC members Cass and Bridey Roche, Cass and I have been friends and business associates for many years, it's always nice to have the warmth and good company of the paddies when away from home for so long. It was worth going back on our track to meet up if only for to replenish our store with some fine Irish sausage, black and white pudding, soda bread, tea bags and of course a big bag of Tayto, these are the things we miss and look forward to when we have anyone coming from home to visit. We had a good five days together relaxing in the very pleasant September weather here in Poros, a few nice meals and BBQs and catching up with the news from back home.
We left Poros and set sail for to transit the Corinth Canal on our voyage back into the Ionian for the winter, stopping off overnight at the port of Epidavros in the Saronic Gulf, the ancient theatre of Epidauras dating back to the fourth century BC is sited here and more famously known for its wonderful acoustics.
We left at dawn for the trip to the east entrance of the Corinth Canal, the sea was flat calm as I had breakfast on the go watching the sun come up whilst Linda was snoring away down below, the wind came up from the west soon after steadily building to twenty knots by the time of our arrival at the canal. We came alongside the waiting quay to go pay the transit fee. Madre Di Dio, it cost €360 for the four mile transit. The Canal was first opened for navigation in July 1893, dug to sea level requiring no lock gates, it maintains a depth of seven meters, the huge limestone walls rise to a height of three hundred feet, one can see the damage to these walls from attempts by both British and German troops to sabotage it during WW11, the state of repair is not good and to be honest has the look of neglect, the Greeks are just pocketing the extortionate transit fees with little re-investment in this wonderful feat of civil engineering that was initially dug by hand by six thousand Jewish prisoners of emperor Nero, indeed, Nero turned the first sod of this great excavation long before it was eventually finished by a consortium of French entrepreneurs. The Canal in its present form is not commercially viable as it is too narrow at seventeen meters for modern day shipping, the small freighters and tankers that use it pay an average of €2500 per navagation, it badly needs widening and major investment to make it viable but the Greeks have no money in the foreseeable future to see this through.
Having paid our fee, the barrier was dropped and we set off due west into twenty knots of wind that was funnelling down through the Canal, with full throttle and the wind dead on the nose this kept DeDanann nice and steady as we pushed through the adverse current that flows west to east, it was an enjoyable trip until the barrier on the west entrance was dropped, white horses and big seas rolling in our direction along with a twenty to twenty five knot head wind awaited us for the next fourteen miles up through the Gulf of Corinth to the port of Kiato on the Peleponese side were we tied up for a couple of nights to ride out some bad weather and thunder storms.
We left Kiato and crossed the Gulf to the very nice port and village of Galaxidi, some thirty odd miles distant. Fellow HYC members John McMonagle and Norman Fullam met us on arrival at the town quay and took our lines, Norman keeps his Cape Dory 30, which they both sailed there from the USA in 2013. Galaxidi is a very nice Greek port to visit if coming through the Gulf, well sheltered and has that traditional Greek village feel about it, it's a port with a great naval tradition, some very fine houses built by wealthy sea captains of old, it also had a great boat building tradition in its day.
They have a fine naval museum in the village that's worth a visit, if you walk around the headland there is a really nice bronze sculpture of a mother and her young children waving out to sea at the father heading of on another voyage.
The famous Roman amphitheater of Delphi is close by and really worth a visit if you like that kind of thing, Linda went with some New Zealand cruisers to see it, as for me, I'm p!!!!! off with looking at ancient sites and their mythical gods, so I choose to have lunch with the Howth men and hear a first hand account of their great navigation from New York to here in this fine noble boat of Normans named Somers Isle after his old ship on which he was an officer.
A week relaxing here in Galaxidi we set sail into a nice fifteen knots of following wind port to port to the island of Trizonia and tied up in the derelict Marina here, it was once a well run Marina but like everything else in Greece it has almost been abandoned by the local council but it's free and a grand place to spend a few days if you have a water maker and generator. There are a few live aboards wintering here and they keep the place tidy.
We moved on the next morning out into another nice following wind all the way to the interesting port of Messalongi, some forty miles distant. One enters the swamp land port by transiting a narrow canal for two miles that thankfully no fee has to be paid, it's a popular port with cruisers for wintering boats ashore and on the water, it's quite cheap, has a fine working town close by and a live aboard community wintering there. The only problem that I saw with staying here was "Mosquitos" jaysus! you'd want a blood transfusion every morning tied up here. The Dali Lama is quoted as saying, "One should never underestimate the power of the little people! - Have you ever tried to sleep in a room with a mosquito!"
We will hang about Messalongi for a week or so before crossing over to the island of Cephalonia some forty miles distant, a wonderful part of the Mediterranean, we will take it slowly up through the Ionian islands of Meganissi, Ithaci and Lefkada and all the way to Preveza from where we started or Greek voyage last April.
September and October is a grand time to relax and enjoy the last of the sunshine before the onset of winter which can be wet and windy here, it's a good time to catch up with all the other cruisers doing the same thing returning to their winter ports and yards. We will lift out at Preveza in a few weeks time before the long but enjoyable drive back through Greece, Italy and France and all the way to Dublin for the Christmas.
This is our last report until we return next year when we will head south through the Corinth Canal and then down through the Cyclades Islands all the way to Turkey, if the political situation is more settled we will winter in Turkey next year.
To all of you reading our logs we hope you have enjoyed them, perhaps they may inspire some of you sailors to head off into the sun instead of just dreaming about it, I have lived my own life in the believe that "you will never plough a field by turning it over in your mind!"