Tony Olin ties up DeDannan in Aegina for the winter
16 November 2021
It’s 05.00 am August 20th 2021, my taxi arrives on time for to start my return to Athens. DeDanann has been lying ashore in the Asprakis boatyard on the island of Aegina in the Saronic gulf close to Athens. My Ryanair red eye flight was delayed getting up due to fog in Dublin but was otherwise pleasant enough and I was surprised that it was full. A taxi to the port of Piraeus and a short wait in a port side cafe drinking fresh orange juice and waiting for the flying dolphin to take me to Aegina @ €13 is bloody good value.
I had a car booked to be waiting at the port, a Fiat with automatic gearbox and airconditioning , however, having man-hauled three bags around the port looking for the car in 40 degrees of gruelling heat, I rang the company to enquire as to where my car was only to be told they were not aware of any such booking. Come to our office and we will sort you out, half a mile later I arrived - soaked in sweat and parched with the thirst. The office was more like my workshop back home, there were two guys pulling a gearbox out of a banger, another young lad trying to straighten up a crashed banger of a scooter. Having guzzled a bottle of cold water they gave me, I was offered a heap of scrap of a Fiat panda, no aircon and certainly no automatic gear box, I took one look at this car and another at yer man, he got the message! I was too weary for a row with anybody.
Luckily there was a taverna across the road and I retreated to there for a nice Greek salad some fresh fish and some cool white wine to wash it down. I had the waiter call a taxi and off to the boatyard we went.
I had emailed the boatyard to have a secure ladder ready for me and have the decks washed and hosed down prior to my arrival, the ladder was in place but the cats lick of a wash down carried out by the guys in the yard was disappointing to say the least. Even more disappointing news was that our very expensive (€2000 new in 2019) gel batteries were cooked, I was feeling sorry for myself until I heard another boat in this yard had went up on fire during the summer due to overcharging of the batteries by the solar panels.
After a goods night's sleep, I set about giving DeDanann a proper wash down, getting the water tank sanitised, I hired a scooter, got in some shopping, which the local market kindly delivered to the boat and I was set up to get some maintenance work done. UPS had two 24-kilo cartons to deliver to me the following day as was arranged in Dublin and cost me €210, to cut a long story short, they arrived eight days late, every excuse under the sun was given, depending on whoever you got to talk to as to the delay. In our opinion, we found them a dreadful company to deal with when things go wrong.
I got stuck into changing the prop shaft seals and bearing, service the “Max Prop” propellor, changed the pitch on the prop from 22 degrees to 20, at the time of writing, I’m going to change it back to 22 when we lift out again as the auld Perkins engine is running a bit hot at this pitch. There is a brilliant drop down bow thruster on the Amel, it needs new seals, oil and bearings every few years. I set about extracting it from the 9hp motor which should only have took me no more than three hours, it took two days of pounding with a hammer and lots of penetrating oil and some heat from a blow torch, when it went, out of the blue, it was like the condemned man falling from the gallows. The gas thing is that we paid a company in the yard in Preveza five years ago €1050 to do this job, there is no way it could be as seized as it was after only five years, this had not been out in twenty years, the bearings and two gears were shagged and the old gear oil was like treacle. The lesson is that you have to be about when these jobs are getting done by others. I was a good fitter by trade and I did the job properly and will continue to service it myself in future.
A new set of Victron AGM batteries costing €2000 was sore, but with two fridges, a bow thruster, big windlass and everything else to feed with power one needs really good batteries for live aboard cruising. A change of fuel filters and topping up of coolant was all the engine needed to be ready to go. We had the yard here sand back many years of anti-foul right back to the gel coat, some fairing, two coats of epoxy and two coats of new anti foul paint costing €2800 was good value and much needed. A new set of zinc anodes, checking and greasing of sea cocks and we were ready to launch.
Linda arrived with our little dog 'Alfie' a couple of days before we launched. We set of from the boat yard to the port of Aegina only to find it rammed packed with charter boats, not a mooring to be got, we then set course for the tiny island of Agistry thinking very few go there only to find it the same as Aegina, onwards to the port of Poros and it was the same, we were about to go to anchor for the night, it was past 10.00 pm and we were kind of hungry, the dinghy was on deck and not ready for use, we spied a private mooring free and thought we’ll have that for the night and get fed in one of the port side tavernas. It turns out the mooring was belong to none other than HYCs Cass and Bridie Roche - who were away sailing!
Poros is a good port to spend time, we took it easy getting DeDanann cleaned up with lots to do in between. We had no agenda this year as to where to go so we spent ten days tipping about Poros. I was watching the weather in the Cyclades, the dreaded Meltimi was blowing at Gale force, the Meltimi is a summer wind that blows from the North and it usually goes to sleep around mid September then the winds become more tame from the South.
We saw the great North wind go down and set course for the Island of Kythnos in the Cyclades some sixty miles to the East, we had a good crossing dodging the many huge ships and tankers that run between these Islands on passage to Turkey and the Black Sea. Many of them go to anchor off the Islands awaiting orders, enormous ships sitting on anchor for weeks at a time.
We arrived late in the evening at the port of Loutra and took a berth in the harbour. The port was busy with lots of charter boats coming from Athens with mainly Eastern European crew on board, Russians, Lithuanians, Polish and Ukrainians. We’ve never seen this before, usually the charterers are from Central Europe or Australia and New Zealand. It was very noticeable how few British cruisers were around, not sure if it is Brexit or Covid but they were not about this year.
We next set course for the Island of Serifos and the port of Livadhi some twenty eight miles to the South. We had twenty five knots of North wind pushing us along in a big lumpy sea that was uncomfortable as DeDanann slid down the back of two meter waves under main and mizzen making eight knots. Our sea legs were not the best and neither of us were keen to go below to cook.
Livadhi is on the most southerly coast of Serifos, it is situated a mile or so North up into a narrow gulf with high hills on both sides, as we approached the entrance to this gulf and set our course North, the wind all of a sudden went from twenty five knots up to forty five knots hitting us on the nose coming down from the Chora high up on the hills. DeDanann was rounding up as she pushed her way up at full throttle to shallow enough water outside the port to drop anchor. The rocna anchor dug in and we put out eighty meters of chain in flat water which was comfortable enough for to knock up some food and wait for the wind to come down enough to go into the port to berth.
It was great entertainment sitting off the port entrance watching several charter boats with many crew on board attempting to berth in over thirty knots of wind, the chaos, shouting and roaring as boats were bashing off each other and getting anchors tangled as they withdrew to head back out of the small port.
It was late in the evening when the wind came down to below twenty knots and we took a berth before they were all gone.
By the next morning the wind was back up to to thirty and often forty knots from the North, it blew non stop like this for eight days, we cursed that bloody Meltimi every day as we would dare not venture far from the boat such was the risk of someone pulling up our anchor, we had two huge fenders that I keep on board burst by the power of this wind pushing DeDanann back tight to the dock. It is the fiercest wind in the Mediterranean for sure.
We saw several charterers leave their boats and go back to Athens on the ferry such was the experience they had. The charter company’s had to send staff out by ferry to eventually bring the boats back. The port and anchorage were full one particular night, it was 03.00am when the wind got up to over forty knots and many boats on anchor were dragging. I was up on deck looking out at the chaos as crew were resetting their anchors.
One particular boat with a Swiss couple on board was dragging dangerously close to the harbour wall, the wave was washing over the wall and things were getting serious for them as they tried to retrieve their anchor in terrible conditions. I turned on the radio to ch16 and sometime later heard the women on board broadcast Help,Help, Help! The Coastgaurd responded fast asking what was wrong and their position. She told them their windlass was broken trying to take up their anchor and that they were dragging into the harbour wall, that they needed immediate assistance. The message was being sent by a women clearly in terrible distress on a charter boat they were not used to, her husband was doing a great job of motoring away from the wall. The wash coming over the port wall made it untenable for anyone to stand on, not that they could do much to help in anyway.
I called up the Coastgaurd to confirm in a calm way what was going on, I stressed the situation was serious and confirmed the location as the entrance to the port of Livadhi on the Island of Serifos. I told them the wind was blowing at over forty knots and they need to get assistance here fast. They asked for my telephone number and said the control centre in Athens would call me up and to stand by for the time being. Half an hour later I got the call asking to update them on the situation. At this stage a brave young French sea gypsy by the name of Quinto got into his tiny inflatable dinghy and motored out to the boat in trouble, with great difficulty and great courage he jumped on board and man hauled one hundred meters of chain and the anchor on board whilst the skipper motored up into the wind to assist him. How he managed it on a deck that was heaving up and down like a bronco horse I just don’t know.
They came into the port and managed with great difficulty to tie up side on to the ferry dock. It was only as they were about to tie up that a solitary port police man arrived armed only with a torch, he took a line to assist and then reported to the coast guard that all was well.
There is a port police station overlooking the port and a patrol boat moored in the port, they are supposed to man the station 24/7, yet it took close on two hours for anyone to turn up. The truth is, there good for nothing but checking and stamping documents, they hide behind there desks when the going gets rough.
This is not the first time we’ve seen sailors in trouble completely let down by the Greek Coastgaurd.
We’re very lucky in Ireland and the UK to have the RLNI.
We eventually got so fed up with non stop wind howling day and night that even Linda was prepared to go back to sea for the eight hours crossing back to the Saronic Islands. We had twenty five to thirty knots of North wind on the beam making eight and sometimes nine knots for most of the passage under mizzen and some head sail until the wind dropped off as we came out of the zone of the Meltimi east of the Island of Hydra.
As the wind became tame again the rain came in for the remainder of the voyage back to Poros. It rained a lot for the next couple of weeks that we were there, I always find life on a boat gets a bit mundane when it’s raining all the time.
We met up with Cass and Bridie Roche who were back in port, we had a few meals together and that was nice to have some Irish company for a change.
We next took off for the port of Aigina and tied up to the town quay there for a few days, the port was rammed pact every night with charter boats, this is most unusual so late in October, I think everything got booked up late this year after the Covid situation.
It was here this time in 2019, Linda and I were in a port side taverna one night having dinner, the port was almost empty and few people other than the locals about. There was an elderly American lady dining on her own at an adjoining table. We got chatting after dinner and invited her to join us for coffee which she did. She was telling us that she was a professor of epidemiology at a university in Paris and that her late husband had been also. In my state of ignorance I asked “what does an Epidemiologist do” and she said, have you ever heard of an epidemic, and went on talking about how virus’s can travel and quickly spread among people. She talked of the Spanish flu and the way it made its way up through Europe and so forth. She talked of how quickly it could happen again and spread like wild fire due to the amount of air travel by millions of people every day. This was only a few weeks before Coronavirus started to make itself known and little did we know we would hear the word Epidemiologist every day in the media for the next two years.
We next set course for Zea Marina in Pireaus some thirty miles distant for to have our Kohler generator looked at “again” by the main agent there, we paid these guys €3000 to fix it this month back in 2019 and it has given us nothing but trouble since, it turns out the new digital controller they fitted is faulty and at least they are going to replace it with a new updated controller for free when it arrives from Canada.
Four days here at €90 a night plus water and electricity was enough, and we headed back to Aegina and the little gem of a fishing port Souvala. Very few boats call here or even know about it. The charts show it to be too shallow but their is room for two boats side on in three meters just inside the break water.
Some of the best food we have ever had in Greece was eaten in the little tavernas here and for small money to boot.
Finally we headed back to the port of Aegina to make arrangements and prepare DeDanann for lifting out for the winter in the Asprakis boat yard here on the North coast of the Island. The yards here are basic with little or no facilities, but they are not near so expensive as the fine yards in Preveza where we have wintered in the past. It is also much better for getting to the airport in Athens especially when travelling with Alfie.
That’s it until next April when we will return and set course for Crete and probably winter in Turkey.