DeDannan feels the force of the 'Meltimi'
Tony Olin reports from his yacht 'DeDannan' in the Greek Islands, where he has been encountering very strong winds during his cruise in July. Known locally as the 'Meltimi', read below his account of managing the conditions and his latest stories from the Aegean:
The weather here on the island of Aigina was hot, hot ,hot, it was nearing the end of June, Linda was due back from Dublin in one weeks time, it was time to head to the Evia channel along the mainland coast towards Athens. Evia is the largest of all the Greek islands, the channel is a couple of miles wide and over one hundred and fifty miles from south to north leading out to the Sporades Islands, it gives good protection to the mainland coast from the Aegean Sea and the meltimi winds. Alfie and I left for the forty mile voyage from Aigina to the port of Lavrion on the mainland coast near the entrance to the channel, the forecast was showing good wind from the north and this would give us a good sail coast to coast. We left in company with some French friends Claude and Anna on their yacht "Yagan" an old Jeanneau 49.
We started out in a nice fifteen knots of wind and a one meter sea running before us, Yagan being the faster boat overtook DeDanann soon enough, we were having a cracking sail for the first twenty odd miles, by the afternoon the wind build up to twenty five and sometimes thirty knots, DeDanann was clearly carrying her sail better as Yagan fell back heavily reefed, we overtook her to make it to the entrance, and shelter as I thought, of the Evia channel half an hour in front. The winds and waves at the entrance to the channel were only ferocious, it was now blowing in excess of forty knots and the waves were now at two meters and heaping up on top of each other. I could hear Delph shifting down below as DeDanann see-sawed her way over the waves making only three knots. The south end of the Evia channel is on the westerly fringe of the dreaded 'Meltimi' that blow's all day at gale force from the north.
Sunion is an anchorage on the mainland coast that gives good shelter from the dreaded meltimi north wind, It is only a mile or so up the entrance of the Evia channel, we decided to head for there and we dropped anchor under the ruin of Poseidon's temple in about eight meters of water. Dropping anchor single handed is easy on DeDanann, the windlass can be operated from the comfort of the helm, I just find a spot, point her up to wind, drop the anchor with the mizzen sail up and sheathed hard, and she drops back with the wind until she digs in hard, at this stage I run the motor full in reverse to see if we will drag, I then attach the snubber, then it's time for the tea as I sit anchor watch for an hour or so, the mizzen keeps us pointed up to the wind at all times.
The winds blew hard for the next couple of days, the anchorage was filling up fast with boat after boat seeking her shelter, it was too windy to launch the dinghy to go ashore, this upsets Alfie no end as he just refuses to relieve himself on board and he then becomes very agitated.
Whilst the shelter is good and the sea remains flat, swell comes into the anchorage, very uncomfortable swell. DeDanann was rolling from side to side constantly, Alfie and I were both seasick and neither of us could face any food, it was just dreadful, as the wind shrieked through the rigging night and day. We put up with this for thirty five hours until the dawn came up the next morning, I got up and decided to up anchor and bull our way against the wind and waves to the port of Lavrion some twelve miles distant. We entered the port, a big commercial port for cargo ships and ferries, the shelter from wind and waves was most welcome as we tied up on the charter quay with the assistance of a young Dutch lassie who worked for a charter company and was up and at it early.
Lavrion is close enough to Athens, the town is typically Greek, no tourist about, we spent a few days here rambling about the town, one could see the poverty that you don't come across on the islands, lots of Muslim migrants from Albania, Bulgaria and Syria, living in a very dilapidated and run down flats complex, it reminded me of growing up in inner city Dublin of the sixties, my mothers people were all from the north inner city area, there were lots of similar complex's like this at that time. Kids were playing, as mad dogs, chickens and hens run about the place, the women on the balcony's chatting to each other, the men with no work to go to, sitting in the shade of the gruelling sun, smoking and keeping out of the women's way.
The dilapidation was just terrible, one could be forgiven for feeling threatened walking around places like this, although it never has that effect on me, I like to see for myself how the other half live, I would not be keen to visit here during the hours of darkness mind. Even Alfie felt threatened by the ferocious dogs that dwell here, and he's a terrier that will growl at dogs twice his size, he's really a snob from Sutton, but he knew he was out of his league around here.
We moved off on the Thursday morning early as the charter boats start to return to base for the changeover of crew, it was interesting to note, that even in late June a lot of the boats lay empty on the quay. The Dutch lassie was telling me business was bad around here, there is too much wind in the summer months for families, it was really only suitable for very keen sailors looking for some exhilarating sailing out and around the Cyclades islands, she told me of seeing families with kids spending their whole week without being able to leave the port such are the winds around here in July and August.
We arrived at Porto Rafti some thirteen miles to the north, the winds were light enough as we beat our way to this big well sheltered natural anchorage, it has a small port that is too shallow for yachts to enter, but the anchorage to good and it's a nice place to spend a few days with lots of taverna's and ample shops etc.
Linda was due in from Dublin and it is only a half hour in a Taxi from the Airport. We hung out for a day or two then took off for the anchorage on Evia island called Boufolo (topmost pic), some twenty miles distant, it was late in the evening after the winds died down when we set off in fifteen knots of north wind hoping for a pleasant sail, we came into the anchorage of Boufalo in Twenty five plus knots of wind in pitch dark and we dropped anchor with the wind shrieking off the hills that lay before us, the sea in here was flat calm. Boufalo is a very pretty little traditional Greek village with room for about a dozen or so boats to go to anchor, the prevailing north wind gusts all day long off the land but the sea is always calm in here, it has two nice taverna's and a van shop that visits the village every morning, the water is crystal clear and nice for swimming and fishing. We spent two days here and enjoyed them, there was no internet or phone reception to watch the weather, one becomes so dependant these days on Internet that you feel almost lost without it, imagine not knowing what's going on in the world the moment it happens, and not being able to contact everybody 24/7, I'd like to be able to admit it doesn't bother me, but the truth is, it does, what did cruisers do only a few years ago!
We left Boufalo for the Chalkis Bridge some thirty miles to the north after the wind died down to ten plus knots, we meandered out of the long dog leg to the sea, straight into twenty five plus knots of wind again, with sails reefed to storm sails, head sail well furled and mizzen set we ploughed along at eight and nine knots with spray all over the decks, the wind was gusting up to thirty eight knots and we were hammered all the way to the big port of Eriteria, were we ran into before night fall, we dropped anchor off the little beach and all the shoreside taverna's, the shelter was good in here as we made dinner and enjoyed watching all the revellers who come from Athens on the many ferries that come and go all weekend. The swell from the ferries that come and go every half hour from seven in the morning till midnight was very uncomfortable, we upped anchor after the weekend here and had a pleasant motor in flat water all the way to the Chalkis Bridge, we tied up in the marina there and spent a few days rambling about this fine town that is the capital of Evia.
Chalkis is half way up the channel, it is an important town with its own docks, busy with cargo ships coming and going, bulk carriers transporting lead, iron ore, and lots of other precious minerals mined here to all over the world. This was an important place for the same reasons during the Venetian occupation in ancient times, one can't imagine the gruelling work of the Venetian slaves rowing against the meltimi to get here.
A road bridge connects Evia with mainland Greece in the centre of the town, it's only about fifteen meters wide, it has a fierce current with whirl pools that would turn a boat around in circles, transiting the bridge is done at slack tide between the hours of 22.00 and 04.00 each day, you book your place to go through, costing us €36, and then go to anchor out of the current and wait patiently to be called, they watch the currents and only open the bridge for half hour or so when it is safe to go through, at which point you hear on VHF channel twelve, DeDanann Go, and keep safe distance from vessell ahead of you, and so it goes till everyone including some of the smaller cargo ships pass through.
A few days knocking about here, we set out to anchor off the bridge and a boring wait till the bridge opens, it changes every day and you are not given a specific time , you just have to be ready to up and go as soon as the bridge starts to swing, well we were pleasantly surprised, it was a Friday night and there was a festival of sorts on the town quay with good rock bands from Athens belting it out, then at midnight we were anchored under a most magnificent fireworks display that went on for half an hour. We went through during the fireworks to great cheering from the legions of young revellers hanging about the bridge pissed and enjoying themselves, we had intended to head six miles north to an anchorage for the night, the craic was so good we just dropped anchor the other side of the bridge and enjoyed the music till four in the morning, it really was a pleasant experience that we will remember.
The next morning we headed north to the little fishing port of Limini some twenty five miles distant, the winds were light and the sea flat as we motored along the coast of Evia, the scenery gets a lot better this side of the Chalkis Bridge, it's very suburban and industrial on the other side as eleven million people reside between here and Athens. As we approached the port of Limni the wind came up as if someone had flicked a switch, in minutes we were again in up to thirty knots off the land, as we were only five miles off we just continued under motor and the mizzen set to the entrance of the port. Limini is a small port, the entrance is very tight and obscure, the water around it is really deep, twenty to thirty meters right up tight to the entrance, anchoring was not really a safe option in these depths and it was another fifteen miles to the next port of refuge. We crept up against the wind for to try and have a look inside, I wasn't to keen to enter a tight port that I didn't know in these winds, we were just about to move off when an Irish cruising couple from Cork saw DeDananns flag and hailed us to come into the port and tie up next to them, they assured us that the shelter was good once inside and they would be ready to take lines, we had a roller coaster ride right up the the entrance of the pier as we motored under full throttle close to the rocky shore and the calm conditions once inside. Later that night we saw two charter boats about to turn around and head off, I called them up on the radio, they were cruising in company and both boats had young kids on board, the wind and sea outside were rough and it was getting dark, they were glad of our assistance in piloting them in to the port were they tied up to the local fishing boats.
We had a very enjoyable five days here, a typical Greek fishing village were they make the cruiser very welcome, the taverna's appreciate the business and the food is cheap. The fishermen go out in all weather at night, fishing for sardines and other small fish, they land their catch at around five AM, I was usually woken up by the noise of them sorting out the catch and loading it into vans, then they were off to their beds by six, the day's work done.
We were advised the winds get lighter and less volatile from here the more north we head, and this was indeed the case. We visited the ports of Loutra and Orei on the Evia coast before turning into the gulf of Volos, we spent our first night here in a well sheltered anchorage to the north east of Trikiri island, the water is deep in here and finding a suitable spot to anchor was difficult, most boats were on their mooring buoy's, the winds were light as DeDanann waltzed around the anchorage on her chain, I eventually tied a stern line off one of the bouy's before hitting the sack for the night.
The following day we made the twenty odd mile voyage to the town and huge harbour of Volos, as we sailed close to the north coast the wind built up to a steady twenty knots from the north east and we had a good sail right into the port entrance. We found a good berth on the huge town quay, we were directed onto it and tied up by an Irish guy called Carlos, who is the un-official harbour master for this quay, known to the port police as the trelos Irlandos (mad Irish man) and when one meets Carlos one can understand what they mean. He was delighted to see an Irish boat, he said we were only the second Irish boat this year, he had been expecting us as he had received a message from a Swiss skipper we met some weeks ago to say we were coming. He came on board and Linda asked, would you like a drink Carlos, "no thanks" said he, I don't drink when I'm working, but I'd like a cup of Irish tea if it's going, now, I knew Carlos was a bull shitter, the smell of beer off him at this time of the day would knock you over. He started on his tea as I went to my whiskey locker and produced a couple of my little devils, I put them on the table before him saying, you might like to bring them back to your boat with you to have a wee dram to help you sleep tonight, he picked one of them up, examined the label,and with the one hand, whipped off the cap and straight into the tea without losing a beat, this was the hand of experience for sure, he knocked back the other before he left to attend another boat that was coming in.
Later that evening we were walking along the quay, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw him coming out of the water after free diving to un-do a snagged anchor chain, he was half shot when he left DeDanann, as he got himself dressed in his suit of rags, I said, Jaysus Carlos, your a great man for the diving, I have to go up a mast down the quay now to retrieve a loose halyard before I finish up for the night. I've met so! many characters like him in forty years of building sites, I walked away wondering, if this type of character is unique to the Irish and the Scots.
Our voyage through the Evia channel has not been so enjoyable, the meltimi this year has been fierce, facilities for visiting boats is poor to say the least, it is far too suburban, finding a water tap that works or a berth in any of the ports is a problem, the town quays are taken up with boats that lie there all week as their owners are in Athens.
The Sporades Islands will be more to our liking.