Of Hercules, Argonauts, Oedipus, Refugees and Diesel

Boat maintenance on a journey such as this is very important.  The engine has to be checked regularly for oil, ware on drive belts, blocked filters etc.

Relief
This is not what it seems – I hope!

Washing of the boat usually fell to Jon and his entanglement with various forms of hose pipes became quite worrisome – see below.

My money is on the hose.

Diesel

The boat’s control systems gave us a real-time indication of the state of the batteries, use of fresh water, the current state of the holding tanks and, very important, fuel usage.  After transiting the Corinth Canal our fuel level was at 20%.  Our pilot book told us that we could take on fuel at the exit station near Isthmia but, you guessed it, when we arrived there at around 1000 on Sunday morning it was shut!

We did spot an ancient VW Camper Van with lots of telephone numbers on the side encouraging us to call up for fuel, but my guess is that the guys at the other end of the line were off having an early Sunday lunch.  Despite trying four separate numbers listed on the van I got no reply.

The capacity of the fuel tank is 140 litres so at a rough guess we had around 28 litres in the tank.  We had a further 40 litres in two jerry cans that we had carried with us from Portoroz, a total of around 70 litres, give or take.  I had worked out earlier in the trip that we were getting 2.36 miles per litre.  Athens was some 32 miles away, so we had barely enough in the tank and the wind would be against us in the next leg.  It would be tight, so we emptied one of the jerry cans into the tank and set off.  Although we had been sailing mainly by engine since we left Portoroz we always had the option of hoisting the sails, but the problem with that was that it made our progress less direct and arrival time less predictable.

Nevertheless, we had backup.  By the way, some two hour out of Isthmia I received a call from the owner of the clapped-out VW Van saying that he had a number of missed calls from me and could he help me?  I managed to stay calm and polite in my reply.

Refugees

One thing I have learned from our experience on this trip is that you need to be flexible.  Our intention when we left Kefalonia was to make a break south after passing through the Canal towards Crete and from there on to Cyprus.  This had the advantage of being a shorter route than going over to Athens and also it would significantly reduce the chances of us running into refugee traffic.  In the few weeks leading up to the trip we had debated what we would do in the event of encountering refugees.  We acknowledged that we would have to provide assistance if we encountered any vessel in distress but equally we were clear that we could not do anything to put ourselves or the boat at risk.  The problem is that these situations can easily get out of hand and we reasoned, prompted I would have to say by a very clear steer from Ruth, that the best policy was to avoid confrontation if at all possible.  As seemed to always be the case the decision was taken out of our hands.  We did not have enough fuel to get us to Crete, so Athens it was.

It’s all a Myth

I touched on Greek Mythology in an earlier post when I mentioned the link between Odysseus and Ithaca.  Clearly the stories of Greek mythology occur all over the the Greek Islands but Corinth is particularly rich in reference sources for some of the more famous events.  Hercules (or Heracles to give him his proper Greek name), for example, performed at least two of his twelve labours only a stones throw from Isthmia.

The first of his labours was to kill and flay the Nemean Lion.  Nemea was located somewhere just south of Corinth.  He achieved this without too much trouble but the lion did manage to bight off his finger.

The second of his labours was to kill the Lernaean Hydra, a many-headed dog-like monster which terrorised the people of Argos.  Argos, please note, is not the convenient cut-price electronics store with which we have all become so familiar in the UK.  And the Hydra was not upset at the counter staff for slow service!  Argos is the ancient city on the Peloponnesus Peninsula, very near to Sparta and only just down the road from where we were currently located.  Heracles performed a further ten labours, the reward for which was immortality (I think that tops the Capital One Cup) and it is said that the twelve labours formed the background for the twelve signs of the Zodiac.

Heracles was also one of the Argonauts who set off under the leadership of Jason in the good ship “Argo” in search of the Golden Fleece.  You might recall my reference to this in an earlier blog.  Argo, as you might guess, took its name from Argos.  See how it all fits together?

Now Oedipus, of “the complex” fame, killed his father, Laisus, on the road from Corinth because he ran over his foot with his chariot.  Of course, he didn’t know Laisus was his father because he had been cast out by Laisus when he was born, and I would have to say I have some sympathy with Laisus on this point it having been prophesied that the first child born of his wife, Iocaste, would kill him.  Anyway, having killed Laisus, Oedipus calculated, not unreasonably, that his kingdom of Thebes now needed a king so off he went to Thebes.  Being a handsome sort of chap, albeit with a very distinct limp on account of his crushed foot, he caught the eye of Iocaste, his mother (although he did not know this – I hope you’re taking notes!), and he married her and became the king of Thebes.  It all ended very badly as you might imagine and the story skims over what if any odd deformities might have afflicted the offspring of Oedipus and Iocaste.

I could go on and on about this but, “No!”, I hear you exclaim, “What about Alistair?”

The Corinth Canal

Most people have never been through the Corinth Canal.  Not surprising since it doesn’t really go anywhere, most shipping is too big for it and the traffic between the Adriatic and the Aegean is limited mainly to tourists.  However, Ruth and I have now been through it twice, and the first time we did it was part of another epic journey some twenty odd years ago when we traveled overland from Saudi Arabia on our return to the UK after our first adventure in living and working abroad.

We were on a ferry from Alexandria in Egypt, heading for Barri in Italy, having visited Crete, Athens and of course the Corinth Canal.  Unfortunately we have no record of this as our camera was stolen when we disembarked in Barri, but that’s another story.

The canal is a single channel some 6.3 km long which cuts through the Isthmas of Corinth northwest to southeast.  The walls are almost vertical (80 degree angle).

New Canal
The Corinth Canal

In ancient times there were several attempts to cut the canal but all came to nothing.  Emperor Nero made most progress and actually started excavation, but he died very shortly after work began.

The canal was finally opened on 25th July 1893 having taken eleven years to complete.  By contrast, some 20 years earlier, the Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific Railway, which covered some 3000 miles from St Lewis to the Pacific Ocean, blasting through the Rocky Mountains and the High Sierras, was completed in two years.

Old Canal
First passage through the Canal

Almost by the time the canal was built, it was obsolete.  The wake of vessels passing through it undermined the construction and caused the walls to collapse.  It has never been a commercial success and nowadays it is used mainly as a tourist feature, or to allow easy passage into the Aegean for worthy vessels such as Lothian Sky.

Canal 3
You wouldn’t catch me on that bridge!

Perhaps it is a folly, but it is a glorious folly and the experience of passing through it is unforgettable, as was the fee – €239!!  So if you go there, take your cheque book.

Rio-Antirrio Bridge

The Rio-Antirrio Bridge is a spectacular crossing that links the town of Antirrio in the south to Rio in the north spanning the Gulf of Corinth just east of Patras.  It is widely regarded as one of the engineering marvels of the modern age.  Not only is it beautiful, as can be seen from the pictures below, it has been constructed to accommodate a number of features of the area around Corinth which combined to make the design and engineering a problem of unprecedented complexity.

There are of course the usual problems of cantilevered bridges such as wind, heat expansion etc.  but this bridge had to cope with three other very significant factors.  The first was that the Isthmus of Corinth to the south is actually moving away from the north at a rate of 1.6cm per year and is tilting upwards at the rate of 1mm per year, so the bridge has to be able to cope with this separation in the period of its lifetime.

The second is the constant threat of seismic disruption through earthquakes.  This part of Greece is notorious for seismic activity, for example the earthquakes in Kefalonia which brought devastation to that island in the early 1950s and also during the Second World War, so the bridge had to be built on platforms which would act as dampers in the event of earthquakes!  It is actually floating.  How do people work these things out?

The third, and for me the strangest, hazard is that of potential tsunamis.  The Gulf is quite narrow and the concern is that in the event of an earthquake the shock wave would create a surge either into or out of the narrow opening spanned by the bridge, bringing the whole thing down.

It is stunningly beautiful and Ruth and I were lucky enough to be on the pre-midnight watch and from some eight miles off we were able to view the orange and blue glow outline of the pillars as they slowly grew in the lens of the binoculars.

John came on watch just before midnight and we were babbling on about how spectacular the lights were and how awesome the bridge looked even from this distance.  So we all turned to have a look ….. and it was gone! One minute it was there, the next it disappeared.   Obviously, I suggested, they must turn off the lights at midnight.  John looked at us both with a worried expression on his face. So we did not get to see the bridge in all her luminous glory and that had some relevance later.

Now I hear you say ” well that’s a big bridge, no trouble getting under that”. Think again.  There is a very strict protocol for passing under the bridge.  Commercial vessels pass under the high bit where there is some 55 meters of clearance.  We lesser mortals have to go around the side where clearance gets to as low as 25 meters.  Lothian Sky’s mast (including the VHF antenna  is 22.5 meters from the water line.  Too close for my comfort.  What if someone had left something dangling over the side? Or, they had road subsidence or a bolt came loose?  You laugh, but only two months after it opened one of the main suspension cables snapped on the north pillar!

Alan had to call in to the bridge control the length of the boat and the height of the mast and was then given instructions on which part of the bridge to go under.  Not understanding at the time the significance of the tolerances and the margins of clearance I had told Alan that the mast was 21 meters – it was only afterwards that I checked the boat specification to realise that I was 1.5 meters short!

The photo below is taken looking west so we were approaching from the left side of the bridge as we look.

So numbering from the left in the above photograph we had to pass between pillars one and two.  Looks OK, doesn’t it?  Not if you are standing on the deck of your brand new boat in almost pitch darkness apart from the street lights on the bridge, watching some seriously sturdy metal girders reaching down to wrench your mast from its bearings, and wondering why the top of the mast looked so much nearer than we expected.  Closer and closer we came and not a sound was heard from any of the crew, not even Alan.  John said that he actually stepped to the side to give the mast free room to crash onto the deck!  I think he was concerned that he might get blood on the deck.  Such a gentleman!

Was it close?  It looked it, but in the dark it is difficult to judge distance.  We looked, we listened and we felt no shuddering grinding that would have signalled the end of Lothian Sky. John’s entry into the log at 0200 sums it up, “Passed under the Patras bridge – mast intact!”

IMG_0180
Pillars 2 and 3.  Pillar 1 is to the left out of shot.

So this picture was taken after we had passed under the bridge and as you can see we did not go particularly near to pillar number 2!

The really curious part of it all for me was that Lothian Sky was the only vessel within several miles of the bridge.  We could have gone through at any point, back and forward a couple of times, sideway even, and would not have hindered any other shipping.  But it was 2 O’Clock in the morning and I reckon the bridge control boys were bored.  Nothing like putting the shits up a group of merry matelots to lighten up the night shift.

Fairwell to the beautiful Rio-Antirrio Bridge.  Forward to the Corinth Canal.

Ruth, Kefalonia, Myths

Until last year when Jen got married to Garry I lived in a household of women.  At one point there was Joan, Jen, Ruth and Joan’s mum Ina.  We did have a cat, Gus, but Joan had him neutered at a very early age.  So you will appreciate that keeping women happy has taken up a great deal of my time over many, many years.  So I cannot describe to you the importance of making sure we were in Kefalonia on 7th November to pick up Ruth, who was flying in that day.

IMG_1384
Ruth with her Mum

In planning the passage I stressed to Alan that we could go anywhere and do anything as long as we made that date.  In fact we had been on an easy schedule to do just that, and then there was Corfu.  Suddenly, time was tight as we left Nidry.

IMG_0177
Arrival in Aye Euphemia

Our route to Kefalonia took us past the island of Ithaca which as you all know was the location of Odysseus’s kingdom.  It was to Ithaca that he returned after his ten year odyssey (see what I did there?) after the fall of Troy.  The story goes that after ten years he arrived back just in the nick of time as his wife, Penelope, was just about to take another man.  She set her suitors the task of firing an arrow using Odysseus’s bow through the ring handles of twelve battle axes standing in a row.  But the game was rigged because everybody knew that the only person strong enough to bend the bow was Odysseus himself.  Well his son Telemachus could do it also but that takes us down a whole other route that we don’t want to travel.

Clever lass that Penelope.  Anyway, right enough Odysseus dressed as a tramp steps up, bends back the bow, cocks  the arrow and fires it through the hole in the rings (not much sexual imagery there then?).  Penelope was beside herself thinking she was going to have to marry a tramp, but he threw off his cloak an lo and behold it was the master himself.  So they all lived happily ever after …… well  for a year at least then Odysseus was expelled from his kingdom over a legal matter and it all gets very complicated after that.

We picked Ruth up in Aye Euphemia which is a small port on the eastern side of Kefalonia.  Kefalonia sprung to prominence  following the publication of “Captain Corelli’s Mandeline”, a war-time story of the Italian/Nazi occupation of the island which culminated in a massive earthquake that destroyed large parts of the island.  Because of the war not much notice was taken of this natural disaster but when it happened again in the early 1950’s it received much more attention.  There are several fault lines running through this part of the Adriatic/Ionian Seas and the risk of earthquakes is a a constant companion of the people in this part of the world.

Now that Ruth was on board, sleeping arrangements had to alter.  I kicked Jon out of the “owner’s cabin” and Ruth moved in with me.  I suppose I should say that Jon and I had been getting on particularly well together in the forward cabin and it was with some misgivings that we parted company, but I am sure you would see right through me.  We also agreed to keep the watch rota undisturbed and Ruth would join me in my watch.

Domestic arrangements sorted, it was off to the Corinth Canal to pick up Alistair.  The log showed 660 miles covered.

Nidry. 7th November 2015

Our route south was through the Lefkas channel to Nidry to connect up with some old colleagues of Alan’s from his days in the sail charter business.  We pressed on hard to reach the channel before night fall but alas we were just too late and Alan did not want to risk going through the channel at night – in the morning I fully understood why.  So we woke up the man in the bridge control to lift the bridge for us and we sailed into Lefkas harbour and moored up alongside.

IMG_0356
We had to chase off some fishermen to get this berth

As usual food and beer were the order of the day.  We found a decent restaurant just off the quay and settled down to the most enormous dishes of pasta, fish and other varieties the like of which I have never seen, and would have to say would not want to see again.  There was so much food Alan couldn’t even finish his starter!

The other curious thing about this restaurant was that everyone was smoking.  It seems to be the norm in Greece.  I don’t know if they have any laws banning smoking but if they do it was clear that everyone was going out of their way to ignore them.  Fending off the waitress’s exhortations to take away in a “doggy bag” what was easily the major part of our dinner we broke out into the fresh air to explore Friday night in Lefkas.

Now it was off-season and it was late.  Jon and I retired to our beds leaving Alan and John to paint the town red.  Although from what I could see they would not have needed a very big paint tin.  I did hear John stumbling in at some unearthly hour, trying not to make a noise and he was nowhere to be seen in the morning.  He would not give us the details but he looked like he had had a good night!

We exited Lefkas at 0800. The Lefkas channel is a snake-like cutting through an area of peculiar attractiveness.  It is about two miles long and is marked, somewhat haphazardly, on either side.  It is regularly dredged and winds its way through what appears to be a haven for all manner of wading birds, herons and other wildlife.  The channel is surrounded by rolling fields and meadows and, for all the world, it reminded me of parts of the valley around the River Medway in Kent.  We could have been in England, except that the sun was shining!

We were on our way to Nidry and I have to confess I had my doubts about this.  Niddrie to a man from Edinburgh conjures up images a world away from the Greek islands.  In Edinburgh, Niddrie is a small hamlet just to the south east of the city renowned for its unconventional welcoming of the hapless, needy or lost stranger.  So welcoming are the people of Niddrie that the crows fly through in pairs, one riding shotgun.  But one thing it has in common with Nidry is that it is near the sea, sort of.  If you stand on the top of the bing in Niddrie you can just see the Firth of Forth through the gathering fog.  I did wonder if Niddrie took its name from its near namesake in Greece and you will laugh at the suggestion.  But I hasten to point out that the seaside resort in Edinburgh is called Portobello, no doubt after the beautiful costal town in Spain.  Many a happy summer day I spent at Portobello, or Por’abelly as we locals used to say.

IMG_0360
Settled in Nidry

When I saw Nidry for the first time I knew that any comparisons with the place in Edinburgh could only be that they shared some of the same letters of the alphabet!

Nidry was a sleepy, out-of-season little marina town which I am assured by Alan and Jon fairly throbs with activity in the summer season.  When we got there it was shut, a condition as you know from reading this log that was becoming all too familiar to us.

We did, however, have time to get provisions and to take a look around.  It was just a perfect day.

IMG_0359
After one week at sea Lothian Sky was bearing up quite well

We met a woman from Holland who was getting ready to sail off to the Azores single-handed, well she had a dog but I don’t think that counts.

Jon had his usual fight with the water hose and we managed to find a nice cafe for a light breakfast.  Jon discovered a house with a caravan on its roof!  German apparently.  Must have been a high tide that summer.

IMG_0363
The island behind them was once owned by the Onnasis family.  Jacquie stayed there once I think.

Corfu. Welcome to Greece!

It was late on Tuesday night when we eventually parked up in the Gouvia Marina.  All the restaurants were closed so we set off for the little town adjacent to the marina in search of something to eat.  Everyone there seemed to be drunk, and most of the people in the street were in various forms of fancy dress.  It seemed we had stumbled into the local sailing charter company’s end of season party, or rather the end of the end of season party.

IMG_0351
The Last Chance Saloon, Corfu

After much searching we did track down the only eating place left open in town and we ordered up whatever she had to offer.  As my mother used to say “Hunger makes a good kitchen” and the food was delicious.  A quick refuelling in the morning, get the formalities sorted out with the port police authorities, re-provisioning and we would be on our way again next day.  Or perhaps not.

Still nursing the scars of my encounter with officialdom in Croatia I set off early on Wednesday confident that we had done everything right this time.  Corfu was the first port of entry to Greece, the ship’s papers were in order, as verified by the man in Sibenik, and I had the crew list duly stamped by the Croatian authorities.  What could go wrong?

Her name was Vardia, or Vanda or something.  She was a lovely, pleasant and generally sympathetic young port police officer.  I greeted her in my best Greek, which admittedly was very limited, and all went swimmingly until she saw the boat registration certificate, or actually what was a copy of the certificate.  This was a problem.

Let me explain something about the boat registration.  Lothian Sky is actually owned by Lothian Sky Sailing LLC, a company registered in the USA for reasons that I will not trouble you with at the moment.  The boat is registered in Delaware and the registration documents are in transit from the USA.  The registration authorities in Delaware sent me a copy and assured me that this would suffice for the purposes of any official scrutiny.  They reckoned without the Greeks!

I explained to Vardia/Vanda that there had been no problem in Croatia where they had been very happy to accept the copy and assumed that as we were all part of the EU the same standards would apply.  That cut no ice at all.  It seems that comparisons with Croatia are not particularly welcomed in Greece.  Bit of cultural naivety on my part.  The choices she offered me, and here we get a very interesting insight into the Greek culture, were as follows:

  1. Produce the original certificate.  I explained that this was impossible as it was in transit from the USA.
  2. Go away.  Of course she was at pains to stress to me that she was not recommending this and if I were apprehended further down the line she would of course deny everything.

I think this is what is called “Hobson’s Choice”.

We did explore other options.  She suggested that I get in touch with the US Embassy.

She did agree to consult with her Ministry but would not be able to do so until the morning, and she offered me no great hope that this would be successful.  She did say, however, that I could leave the boat in the marina until the original certificate turned up!  Try as I might I could not identify any aspect of this suggestion that looked remotely attractive.

I telephoned the US embassy in Athens.  Having experienced the British Embassy abroad I held out not much hope that they would be able to help, particularly as I started off the conversation with the words “I am not an American citizen”.  In fact the fellow at the other end of the phone was sympathetic but made it clear that this was not an embassy matter.  It was a State issue and needed to be referred to Delaware.  He did say that the Embassy would be prepared to notarise a statement from me saying that the copy was confirmation of the registration of the boat, but of course that was not the same thing as them saying that the boat was actually registered.  In any event I would have to go to Athens to get the statement notorised.  Back to square one.

However, the conversation about notorised documentation put an idea into my head.  I went back to Vardia/Vanda and asked her if I managed to obtain a notarised version of the registration from the USA would that suffice?  She was noncommittal, which I took as a good sign, but it was not looking good.

Back at the Marina I delivered the news to the guys.  We talked it through and explored options but it looked to all of us that the expedition was about to come to a premature end.  John and Alan went off to explore how they could get back to the UK from Corfu, Jon said he would stick it out with me for the foreseeable future.  My other main concern was that we were due to collect Ruth, my daughter, from Kefalonia on 7th November and Alistair Cameron, the final member of the crew, from Athens on the 8th.  I had to tell them that in all probability the trip would have to be aborted and to tell them to stand down their travel arrangements.  Ruth was devastated and I am sure Alistair was equally disappointed.

It was not going well and I was actually seriously contemplating spending the winter in Corfu.  But first I needed to get the notorised documents from Delaware.  I needed somebody with grit and determination, someone who would not take “no” for an answer, someone who could give the Company Secretary in Delaware hell and still get her to cooperate.  I needed Joan, my wife.  She had been in Huston at a convention for most of the time I had been away and had only just returned to Cyprus, jet-lagged and exhausted.

How she did it I do not know but suffice to say that within four hours I had the notorised documents in my hand, having been faxed from Delaware to the Marina office.  That evening we had what I fully expected to be our last supper together.

Next morning Vardia/Vanda greeted me with the news that her Ministry had agreed to accept the copy of the certificate.  I gave her the notorised documents but she was not particularly interested.  Crisis over!  “Much ado about nothing”.  I cleared up the other formalities with customs etc and hotfooted it back to the Marina having already sent messaged to the guys that we were back in business.  By 1215 we were out of the Marina and on our way to Lefkas.

Sebenik to Corfu- 2nd to 3rd November 2015

We set off from Sebenik at 1550 on 2nd November on what would be the longest single leg of the journey so far, hoping for good seas and no Bora.  As we were exiting Croatian waters we had to move into international waters at the earliest opportunity which meant sailing some 12 miles offshore.  Several people were following us on the Findship App and I’m sure they were starting to wonder why we were heading off to Italy!

Alan had organised the watch rotation so that we had two hours on and six hours off, which was not too taxing.  We had initiated the watch rota in the ill-fated first leg from Portoroz but the Bora put paid to that so it was not until this point that we were really able to put the rota into practice.

Alan was first on watch and did the stint from 1800 to 2000, followed by Jon who did 2000 to 2200.  I did 2200 to midnight, followed by John from midnight to 0200 and so on until the 24 hour cycle was completed.  In the next cycle the idea was for everyone to march forward two hours so that I, for example, would start my first night watch at midnight rather than 2200, and we would then follow on in the same rotation as before.

All in all it worked quite well and the two day journey to Corfu passed without much incident.  The duties of the person coming on watch were to take a briefing from the person going off watch, make the entry into the ship’s log and mark the chart, as well as making the tea/coffee as appropriate.  By this process we kept a two-hourly record of progress so that if for example Mr Bean managed to take all of our electronic navigation system off line we would at least know where we were no more than two hours before and would know also the direction in which we were traveling and our speed.  Nobody was in the mood to trust Mr Bean!

DSCN1752
Ship’s Log

We would also enter into the log any events worth noting, such as marine wild life, shipping traffic etc.  On 3rd November for example Alan spotted on the radar a couple of vessels off our port side some several miles away.  They seemed to be together on the AIS system and we could not quite work out what was going on.  By the time I came on watch at 0200 we could see that they were some distance apart, probably half a mile, and moving very slowly.  One was a large tanker and the other a tug boat and the obvious conclusion was that the tanker was under tow.  In the dark it is not easy to work out what is actually going on and it was not until we got to within a couple of miles or so of the two vessels that we could see from the tug’s towing lights that the tow line was in excess of 200 meters, way in excess of 200 meters!  Alan left me with instructions to give both vessels a wide berth and I was only too pleased to comply.

DSCN1646

For me the best watch was 0600 to 0800.  Sunrise was usually around 0615 and it is a glorious sight to watch the sun pop up over the horizon.  On land it is difficult to experience this because normally there are hills or high buildings in the way.  At sea there is only the horizon and in all of our journey we hardly saw a cloud so every dawn was bright and clear.  And when I say the sun just pops up that is exactly what it looks like.  One minute nothing, the next it is there, like a beach ball bobbing to the surface of a pool.  As I say, we had experienced clear skies all the way, even during the Bora, and that meant not only sudden dawns but also spectacular sunsets.  Shooting stars became ten-a-penny in reds, greens and white lights and at night the stars covered us like a blanket – very little light pollution in the middle of the Adriatic.

I had never seen the Milky Way in real life and assumed it was something that you viewed through a telescope.  I have now seen the Milky Way and it is wondrous.  Just to spite Mr Bean we actually started to navigate using the stars.  Keeping to a fixed heading with nothing to aim at in an empty sea is very difficult, particularly if the sea is tossing you around.  Lining ourselves up to a star, any star (as long as it was in front of us!), made the whole process much easier and more interesting.  Unfortunately, none of us knew the constellations in any great detail, except The Plough but that was behind us as we were heading generally south, otherwise it could have made the night even more interesting.  Actually I have an App on my iPad which displays the night sky above you and maps out the key constellations.  Unfortunately I only remembered I had it when I got back to Cyprus!

Boredom was always a concern and we all brought with us books, games, DVDs and of course the ubiquitous smartphone or iPad to help pass the time.  As it happened we spent a great deal of time on our phones and iPads (even in the remotest part of the Adriatic we managed to get a signal at least temporarily), read a bit and mostly slept.  The watch cycle interrupted normal sleep patterns and usually we were glad to get our heads down at any opportunity.

We did have some in-flight entertainment.  The boat is equipped with a very fancy hi-fi system and everyone had their own music library with them.  Alan and I did manage to get our respective tastes in music to intersect at some points but the diversity was always exciting!  I recall Alan coming on deck threatening to slit his wrists after a night of listening to one of my music compilations.  I’m sure he was just exaggerating ! Alan also has a good line in chat and kept us entertained with quizzes and “interesting facts” throughout the voyage.  But however you slice it sailing a long uninterrupted passage where there is no sight of land and very few passing ships is boring.  We made the best of it.

After five days and twelve hours since leaving Portoroz and having covered 541.4 nautical miles we reached Corfu at 2130 on 3rd November.  The log said “Dinner and Beer!”  We all could have done with a wash, but that could wait.

The Naming Ceremony

IMG_0297

The naming of a boat is a ritual that can be as simple or elaborate as you want it to be, but it is something that people often overlook. For hundreds, maybe thousands of years sailors have given names to their boats. I have no idea why, but I am sure someone will let me know, but I think it is something to do with the personal relationship that a sailor forms with a vessel which when it comes down to it he entrusts with his life.  Perhaps that is why ships are assigned the female gender?

In the waters that we will be sailing of course one of the most famous ships in Greek mythology, Jason’s Argo, made its epic journey in search of the Golden Fleece.  The actual route that the Argonauts took is, as in much of Greek mythology, a matter of fierce debate but I prefer Robert Graves’ interpretation that the Golden Fleece was located somewhere in the northern Adriatic and that the Argonauts explored parts of the River Po in their travels.  That, of course means that Lothian Sky is on the trail of the Golden Fleece ……….. except in reverse!

The text of the ceremony is here Boat Naming Ceremony for anyone, without a life, who is remotely interested.  The reality was much more painfull as you can see from the video. 

The idea as you will see is to appease the gods of sea and winds.  Clearly, in view of the experience with the Bora which took place some 8 hours later we did something wrong!

Mr Bean!

Now the great thing about buying a new boat is that you get to choose the bells and whistles and the bits and pieces according to your preference and purse.  All sorts of options are available to satisfy the needs of the discerning modern sailor.  For me I tended to lean towards the technological side and to that end I specified the best option for navigation that Hanse had on offer – the Navigation Plus package.  This consisted of a fully integrated B and G Zeus2 system with built in charts, wind and sail options and high specification autopilot, all repeated at both helming positions on deck.  I also have Category B AIS which enables us to see and be seen by shipping at distances of 20 – 30 miles – very useful for the waters on which we would be sailing.  So the very best of kit …. except that it did not work!

Well to be more precise the autopilot did not work.  When we asked it to navigate to a waypoint, it turned the boat through 180 degrees and tried to go back to where we had come!  When we set it to go to a waypoint it would fishtail violently before, if we were lucky, settling on a course.  Even then, in what was apparently a random process it would suddenly swing to starboard and the bleep alarm would sound.  We then had to switch to standby mode and re-set the system.  We tried to recalibrate it and that worked for a few hours but then the bleep bleep bleep alarm returned and we were back to manual helming.

Eventually we just had to live with the erratic, temperamental, idiosyncratic beast within the system.    I christened him “Mr Bean” for reasons which I hope will be obvious.

Trying to get it fixed proved beyond us and summoning help from Xavier, the boat agent, B and G or anybody for that matter while out in the middle of the Adriatic was challenging.  Mr Bean had won for the time being and we just had to get on with it.  The bleep bleep bleep became the all-pervading sound of the whole passage.  I just wanted you to make Mr Bean’s acquaintance.

Sibenik, 1st November 2015

Sibenik is a beautiful little town near to Split which lies at the end of an amazing canal entrance which then opens out into a wide bay. It has an ancient cathedral with a distinctive barrel dome, which was under repair, an attractive waterfront and a very well appointed marina, Mandelina, with some seriously large superyachts.

IMG_0333
Mandalena Marina, Sibenik

We arrived in Sibenik at 1630 with the light rapidly fading. Unfortunately, when we got there it was shut! 1st November is the day when the people of Sibenik mark the “day of the dead” by taking the day off. I was rapidly losing the will to live myself as Alan and I set off to look for the port authority police to get the crew list and permission to sail in Croatian waters, “the Vignette”. The policeman had kindly explained to us where the port authority office was located. 45 minutes later and a few millimetres of shoe leather less we returned to the policeman to explain that we could not find the office and, furthermore, no one in the town seemed to know where it was. By the way we had still not clapped eyes on “the woman” and I was beginning to suspect subterfuge on the part of the policeman. Eventually he relented and put us in the back of his car and drove us to the office. We had in fact passed this office before but had assumed that, in common with everything else in Sibenik, it was shut. There was certainly no light on and the door did not budge when we tried it.

IMG_0334
Sibenik

The formalities were soon sorted and Alan and I returned to the policeman with the crew list so that he could stamp it and the customs office next door could look at it – or at least that is all that they seemed to do. What was becoming clear was that this entry /exit malarkey was a bit of a job creation programme. Remember we had not actually left the EU, but Croatia was not yet a signatory to the Schengen Agreement and, as the policeman kept telling me, “that is a problem”.

Still no sign of the woman!

We took the opportunity in Sibenik to have the Volvo Penta Deisel engine serviced. This should be done after 50 hours of running and although we had not yet reached that mark our next stop would be Corfu, some two days sailing away, by which time we would be well beyond the 50 hours. The Penta people in the marina were excellent and had us sorted in no time.

You get the feeling that Sibenik is a “coming place”.  Clearly there is a great deal of investment in the marina and its surrounding resort area, and inland there are various sites of interest.  It is really only a stone’s throw from Split so it is well situated.

I paid the fine the following morning and after a very acceptable lunch in the deserted but very impressive D-Resort Hotel in the Mandalena Marina we gave a fond farewell to the lovely town of Sibenik, vowing to return some day, when it was open, and, hopefully, meet “the woman”.

IMG_0335
View of Sibenik from the D-Resort Hotel.  The Police Authority docking pier is to the left of centre with the six black bollards.

I completed the exit formalities with the Croatian Police Authorities who informed me that as we were exiting Croatia we had to move into international waters (12 miles off-shore) as soon as practical.

Although we were all taking turns at helming, the task of getting us in and out of berths was left to Alan as he was the most accomplished in such matters. The exit from Sibenik was my first go at exiting and all went well until I got a little too close to a green lateral marking the exit to the bay and we touched the bottom.   It sounded like I had ripped the keel off and I feared the worst. Without hesitation Alan donned mask and snorkel and dived below the hull to inspect the damage. It turned out to be superficial and there was no leakage internally from the keel bolts inside. So, at 1550 on 2nd November and with a wary eye on the keel bolts, we set off for Corfu.

Bloody owners! Who would have them?